Resources for Communities Considering Sterilization

Exploring the idea of a deer sterilization program can feel daunting … we know, we’ve been there!  While every situation is different, we hope the general thoughts below, based on our experience, may help you frame discussions, assess resources, and anticipate challenges.  


  • While volunteer bow-hunting programs are often favored by public officials for their relatively low cost to taxpayers and their popularity among hunters, their success at significantly reducing overabundant deer herds may vary. They also can meet social resistance in dense urban communities where safety may be a concern or an animal welfare culture might view lethal culling as objectionable.
  • The search for effective non-lethal alternatives has focused largely on two methods of fertility control: chemical contraception and surgical sterilization. For reasons explained in detail here, chose sterilization by ovariectomy as the method most likely to succeed in our densely populated and relatively open park setting.
Photo Credit: Susan Becker
  • Any program dealing with the treatment of animals will likely encounter a wide range of attitudes, values, and strong feelings that can support or hinder program development. It’s important they be anticipated, considered respectfully, and managed carefully to prevent them from exhausting or derailing program development efforts.
  • Unless the initiative is led by a champion with the authority and/or political power to force the program into existence, including funding it long term, coalition building is essential. built its broader support around an agreed need to protect the eco-system.
  • As with any population management program, steady continuing effort is essential to the achievement and maintenance of population reduction gains. This is not a one and done approach; ongoing annual operations should be expected and planned for.
  • It is not yet known yet how low a population level can be achieved using sterilization alone. As of February 2023, our population has been reduced by 39%.  It’s still possible that sudden large immigration could offset attrition, as it can with any population control method. (Clifton’s program has been permitted by the State as a research project to test the efficacy and limits of this approach.)
  • The safe capture and surgical sterilization of deer in the wild requires extraordinary expertise and experience. White Buffalo, Inc., founded by Dr. Anthony DeNicola, pioneered the “rapid ovariectomy” sterilization process, and was found by to be the best, if not the only, provider with those qualifications.
  • A sterilization program is most likely to be effective in a suburban or urban area with a dense network of roads and at least some “soft” boundaries such as highways or large bodies of water. Consultation with an expert like White Buffalo, Inc. to determine suitability of the intended area should be pursued early to avoid a lot of wasted time.
  • Costs of a sterilization program can be substantial, primarily because a community will have to rely on outside experts until and unless they can develop the knowledge and skill to conduct operations locally with trained volunteers. 

Motives Matter

There are practical as well as ideological reasons to consider sterilization as an alternative to lethal population reduction methods. Different motives suggest different choices, each with different affects. For example:

  • Population management goals alone might call for some culling in conjunction with or preceding sterilization to reduce the herd size faster and to reduce number of deer needing treatment.
  • Consideration of preventing suffering could allow for some lethal culling. The American Veterinary Medical Association considers sharpshooting, when executed under certain conditions, to be humane euthanasia (although this does not take into account the possible trauma to surviving members of the herd, especially bonded family members of the deceased deer). Sharpshooting is fast, but not cheap, and is often viewed as inappropriate in dense urban settings.
Photo Credit: Mark Easterling
  • The no-kill goal that animates many fertility proponents precludes lethal culling of any kind. While it might eventually prove to be as or more effective than culling at maintaining desired population levels in the long run, sterilization alone takes longer to reduce herd size and is more expensive at least in the short run.

Source of Initiative and Leadership

Advocacy for non-lethal alternatives typically arises from citizens and animal welfare groups when local authorities announce plans to begin lethal culling of destructively large herds. While protests, legal challenges, and high profile opposition can slow and even temporarily stop culling, protest groups and methods typically are not well suited to the research, coalition building and programmatic infrastructure development needed to implement a sterilization program. Separation of the planners and planning function from the objectors and protest function is probably necessary.

  • Government Initiated: Most sterilization programs to date have been initiated and funded by some governmental authority–a mayor, city or community council or park board with legal jurisdiction and the financial and staff resources to implement it. The downside of governmental control is that political winds shift and support can stop abruptly, jeopardizing gains made in prior years. (Fertility control only works to reduce a herd’s size when deaths and emigration exceed births and immigration, a condition that requires keeping at least 95% of the does in the herd sterilized year after year.)
  • Private/Citizen Initiated: Volunteer leadership might be able to avoid getting bogged down in bureaucratic inertia, but also might have trouble sustaining commitment over a long period of time, though this was not our experience. In Cincinnati, a core group of 3+ citizens spent months studying and documenting the issues and alternatives, building community involvement and political support, obtaining the necessary approvals, and raising the funds. It’s core leadership group brought a range of diverse background skills to the project and all have remained involved since 2014. (Useful experience the individuals contributed to the task, in addition to a passionate respect for nature, included law, research, mediation, credibility with public officials, and access to student volunteers in related disciplines at the University of Cincinnati.)

Obstacles and Challenges

  • Attitudes: Sterilization proposals can find vehement opposition from multiple sides. Some hunters hear protests against lethal culling as criticism of them, their values, and their traditions. Some people object to spending money to sterilize deer and argue they should instead be slaughtered for food for the homeless. Some animal welfare advocates object to sterilization as physically and socially intrusive and inhumane.
  • Others say deer were here before people and should be left alone. A few argue that deer are not causing ecological damage and herd reduction is unnecessary, and some may oppose working with Dr. DeNicola, the leading deer sterilization expert, because he also does lethal culling for communities that request it. Mostly these opinions are sincerely held, deeply felt, and loudly expressed. The challenge is to let them be heard without letting them dominate.

  • Legal Issues (state): In most if not all states, deer are legally owned or controlled by state departments of natural resources (DNRs) and may not be handled without a state issued permit. These state agencies may manage state lands and wildlife primarily for the benefit of hunters and other recreational users. Non-lethal deer management proposals can be viewed defensively as contrary to the interests of hunters and resisted by those agencies. The policies and politics governing DNR approval of sterilization programs are important and can vary from state to state. ( minimizes its threat to hunting interests by focusing its program on one square mile of a densely populated urban Cincinnati neighborhood containing three small parks where hunting is less practical for a variety of reasons. It also had the Park Board’s support for the permit request, and was contracting with a known and respected wildlife expert.)
  • State trespass statutes and laws governing hunting on private property may apply to darting and removal of deer for sterilization. Being prepared to answer challenges based on such statutes could prove helpful, and law enforcement’s supportive involvement will also help.
  • Legal Issues (local): Local trespass ordinances and laws governing the discharge of firearms within city limits might apply. Failure to obtain necessary ordinance changes in advance could provide objectors with a basis for stopping the project at the last minute, a costly situation.
  • Supportive involvement of local law enforcement is important. It gives some cover and comfort to other government officials, and increases community acceptance of field darting operations that take place mostly at night and often on private property and public roadways.


  • Who pays?: To win approval and support from the Cincinnati Park Board and avoid probable controversy over public funding requests that could delay or stop the project, agreed to raise necessary funds privately, at least initially.
  • Expenses: Most of’ early budgets paid for the services and expenses (including travel expenses) of capture and surgical professionals to come to Cincinnati for 4 to 6 days each year. Other expenses included costs for organizing a 501(c)(3) corporation, website design and maintenance, fundraising and community education materials (such as posters, flyers, and t-shirts), bait corn, and annual deer population surveys. We also invested significantly in local training,  increasing our costs in the short-term, but significantly lowering our costs long term as local volunteer expertise was developed.
Photo Credit: Sally Skillman
  • Fundraising: almost certainly could not have launched or maintained this program without funding from national wildlife organizations and foundations. We also believe small dollar local fundraising is very important for long term viability as it forces us to reach into the community for “buy-in” and support. Our few experiments with “flashy” fundraising tactics, including crowd sourcing, have generally failed; what tends to work is to educate the public with facts (not spin), answer questions transparently, and clearly state our financial need.


  • Costs can’t be separated from effectiveness.  The question of whether sterilization is cost-effective necessarily leads to another question: “compared to what?”