SAN JOSE -- They're chewing through the landscape and becoming bolder by the day. So frustrated management officials at The Villages insist it's time to take action and sterilize a deer population that has doubled in the past two years at the gated senior community in the east foothills.
The deer have grazed there for years, and it's not the first time the idea of curbing the population has been floated -- a plan to use archers to thin the herd in 2007 was derailed after a week of angry protests. But a Villages spokesman said the current plan to relocate 30 animals outside of the community's eight miles of fencing and sterilize the does in the 170-strong herd is a humane solution to the growing problem.
"The deer are no longer intimidated by people here," said general manager Darren Shaw. "Sometimes during rutting season they can become aggressive. We are concerned that someone might get hurt."
Shaw said there have been incidents involving deer attacking dogs and deer being struck by cars. Their grazing destroys about $150,000 worth of landscaping each year, he said.
After holding a meeting for Villages residents on Thursday, wildlife management company White Buffalo will tranquilize the does and perform ovariectomies in a mobile medical lab starting this weekend and running nightly through Feb. 4.
The plan was hatched after an October community meeting where Anthony DeNicola of White Buffalo told residents of the various options available.
"Many people prefer nonlethal management techniques, but in most situations they are not practical and cannot meet management objectives in a cost-efficient or timely manner," wrote DeNicola in an email. "The Villages is unique in that they are a fenced community and it is relatively small."
While the Humane Society of the United States is researching birth control as a "nonlethal solution to conflicts between people and wildlife in urban and suburban areas," a study co-authored by DeNicola and Cornell University researchers found there is currently no federally registered drug commercially available for deer control.
Rebecca Dmytryk, president of the animal rescue group Wildlife Emergency Services, said the sterilization plan is likely the best course of action. But she added that "deer are probably one of the most difficult wild animals to deal with" because of their flighty nature and strength.
"They're dangerous to themselves and other people, and when they get scared they panic," she said. "They will fight or flee to save their lives even if it kills them."
She said that given the enclosed, isolated population at the Villages, sterilization is "probably a great way to go," and added that darting the deer is preferable to using drop nets, which have a greater chance of harming the animal.
At the October meeting, DeNicola said the situation at the Villages is the "second-most overrun" with deer out of hundreds of locations he has surveyed.
"It's remarkable," he said. "It requires quite a bit of time for deer to live generation after generation and learn that you are not a threat. The deer get to a point where you really are not much different than any other animal in the landscape that is not threatening to them."
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife approved the operation. DeNicola acknowledged there is a chance that some deer may die. But he said a similar program he recently completed near Ithaca, N.Y., saw five deaths out of 172 deer handled, a rate he called "unheard of." DeNicola added that two were already suffering from injuries that would have resulted in a painful death had they not been euthanized.
At The Villages, the 30 relocated animals will be placed just outside the community's fence, and DeNicola said that will minimize stress that comes from transporting the animals.
The relocation of a Fremont herd in the early 1990s ended with all the animals either starving to death or falling prey to mountain lions when they were moved to the Sunol Regional Wilderness.
James Nielsen, a resident of The Villages, was skeptical about the claim that the deer are causing that much damage. He said car strikes wouldn't happen if everybody stuck to the 25 mph speed limit, dogs are supposed to be leashed when they are in public, and the natural fauna was one of the things that drew him to the area in the first place.
"It's one of the things we like about The Villages," he said. "Looking at deer, sometimes you'll see a covey of quail or wild turkeys. It's a beautiful area to live in if you like wildlife."
He added that the deer were in the area long before the 1,200 acre development and its 4,000 residents.
"The deer were here first, it's their country," Nielsen said. "These people are trying to get rid of its natural inhabitants."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.