Two spayed deer near Phoenix, Md., after being sterilized and tagged by a veterinarian with White Buffalo Inc. (Wildlife Rescue Inc.)

The Commonwealth of Virginia has approved a plan by Fairfax City to humanely reduce its deer population by sterilizing the does, making the city the first jurisdiction in Virginia to try such an approach. The initial cost of the program has been provided by donors to Wildlife Rescue, a Maryland animal rights group, and on Friday the Humane Society of the United States added its endorsement and chipped in another $3,000.

Fairfax City felt its deer population slowly infringing on its six square miles, and Mayor Scott Silverthorne looked for an alternative to killing the deer. Deer hunts in the District and Fairfax County “aren’t working,” he said. Wildlife Rescue heard of Silverthorne’s interest in an alternative to killing and connected him with Anthony J. DeNicola, a wildlife ecologist who has begun spaying female deer in Baltimore County, San Jose, Calif., Town and Country, Mo., and Cayuga Heights, N.Y.  The early results in each of those areas has been promising, showing about a 10 percent annual reduction in the herds.

The process involves shooting does with tranquilizer darts, then taking them to the police station and surgically removing their ovaries. The deer are back in the woods within 90 minutes, DeNicola said. Volunteers help with the tranquilizing and transporting and a police officer monitors the safety of participants and residents. Police Chief Rick Rappoport is on board, saying the cost to the city would be minimal, since Wildlife Rescue has agreed to pay for the first two years of the program, when most or all of the does will be located and sterilized. Does are targeted because they are polygamous, zoologically speaking, and they’re the ones who have the babies.

The Fairfax City Council voted for the program in December, and last week the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries approved it as a research mission. “We’re going to provide a lot of data,” Silverthorne said, ” to find out if this program will work. There’s very little downside to this.”

Hearing that the program would move ahead, the Humane Society on Friday decided to put its money where its philosophy is and donated $3,000. “We’re hopeful this will be a model that will be replicated in the state of Virginia,” said Stephanie Boyles Griffin of the Human Society. She said the managed deer hunts favored in many places “are often cruel, ineffective and they’re unsustainable. The factors that should be most important in the eyes of community leaders is which approach is going to cost you the least amount of money over the long run. And this is” the most cost effective by addressing the problem in a costly initial burst, followed by less expensive follow-ups in later years, Boyles Griffin said.

Wildlife Rescue, which is picking up the tab for the costly initial burst, said it has seen “a significant reduction in fawns and a stabilization of the doe population” using the same program in Baltimore County, “without a major influx of new deer. This also shows a lower deer population can be achieved in a humane manner without killing any deer. It is also resulting in less browsing because the does cannot get pregnant.”

Enid Feinberg, head of Wildlife Rescue, said, “Mayor Silverthorne and the Fairfax City Council really should be applauded for having the vision to look for a humane solution instead of following the failures of other communities who mistakenly choose killing deer as a solution.”

Silverthorne said DeNicola’s group, White Buffalo Inc., will begin in Fairfax City sometime in the next two weeks, and expect to be there for two to three weeks, followed by periodic re-visits to sterilize any does missed on prior sweeps.