Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda will bring back a bait and shoot program it used for four years beginning in 2004 that common council members say was necessary to tackle a resurgent deer population.
As in the past, the program will be conducted by four of the city police department’s SWAT team members between October and March in two undisclosed locations. Residents have routinely lodged complaints to the council about a steady presence of the animals in the Lumber City that many say have caused damage to property and hazards on area roadways.
A New York State Department of Environmental Conservation study indicated the city held a population of about 1,000 deer within its borders through 2004, with a growing suburban presence in northern Niagara County possibly pushing those numbers up in North Tonawanda, a city with an abundance of wooded areas.
The council had briefly considered the novel technique of using birth control to reign in an apparent population burst in the city, though at a cost of about $1,000 for each sterilization process, the idea was nixed, according to Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka.
Instead, the success of the bait and shoot program used from 2004 to 2008 led to the council keeping the status quo.
“We’re not starting anything radical,” Zadzilka said. “We’re resuming what we did in the past. We were hearing a lot more complaints from residents in the last two years about property damage. That’s what precipitated bringing this back.”
Council President Russ Rizzo said he believed the previously used technique worked well, while council members are still unsure why the program was not continued in the first place. It appears the program was unofficially discontinued by former police Chief Randy Szukala.
Current Police Chief William Hall said from 2004 to 2005 the force killed 154 deers with 46, 13 and 28 disposed of respectively in three subsequent years.
While updated numbers were not immediately available, there were 77 accidents in 2003 involving deers and vehicles. After the deer reduction program was initiated, there were 17 accidents the following year, according to Zadzilka.
“The accidents were greatly reduced to nuisance calls,” Hall said. “When the program was set up it was never meant to go dormant. I think it was well received last time, it was well run and there weren’t any complaints.”
Zadzilka, who acts as a liaison between the council and city police, said the council had previously set a budget of $15,000 annually for the program, though costs never topped more than $6,500 to cover overtime, bullets and the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle.
Meat from any deer killed through the program will be donated to the Food Bank of Western New York, according to Mayor Rob Ortt, who said the practice is also often utilized by other municipalities in the region.
“This program is not only necessary to reduce the current deer population and protect our residents and their property, but to manage that population going forward,” he said. “We are simply restarting that program.”