FRIPP ISLAND — Residents of this remote barrier island have become increasingly concerned about efforts to reduce the growing deer population in a way some say would invalidate the island's status as a wildlife sanctuary.
Heather Pickens, one of the island's few hundred permanent homeowners, said officials on the community's board have been talking about how to reduce the deer population for almost two years. The issue first came up a decade ago, when the island was eligible for a program study that injected female deer with birth control.
Now, Pickens said, board members seem set on culling the population, which has started to grow again since the birth control program ended and the effects wore off. The controversial idea would use food and treats to lure deer to a central location — in this case, the Fripp Island golf course — where a licensed sharpshooter would kill them.
If approved, the culling would take place after 11 p.m., and therefore wouldn't impact the day-to-day operations of the golf course.
When the island was eligible for the birth control program, Pickens said the deer population was around 600. It currently sits around 400.
"As a place that prides itself on being a wildlife preserve, we can find a way to take care of our animals and our people without having to use lethal force," she said.
Part of the issue, Pickens said, is that a birth control program is roughly six times more expensive than paying a sharpshooter.
"Us homeowners understand it's a lot of money and we're a small island and funds simply might not be there," she said. "But so many of us are against the sharpshooting, it's not what we stand for being a wildlife sanctuary."
A survey of around 560 island homeowners revealed that 45 percent don't support reducing the deer population by lethal force. Another 35 percent said they prefer some combination of lethal and non-lethal tactics.
Regardless, Pickens said, most of the island's 10 board members appear poised to move forward on hiring a sharpshooter. If that majority rules, culling could begin during the winter, when deer have fewer available food sources.
Pickens said she is aware the board has already applied for a permit to cull the deer herd with a sharpshooter through the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and already has a sharpshooter under contract if that permit is approved.
David Lucas, a spokesman for DNR, said he had not heard about the island's efforts to cull its deer herd. The state permits for culling deer are typically issued to farmers in coastal plain areas, he said, and there is often a debate in areas such as Fripp Island when deer begin encroaching on residential areas.
"If a community is interested in doing that (culling), they need to contact DNR in Columbia and speak with deer project biologists for a permit," he said.
Pickens sent a letter to John Marsh, general manager of the Fripp Island Property Owners Association, on Aug. 2 imploring alternative solutions, including her starting a wildlife nonprofit organization to raise the money needed for another birth control program so the island wouldn't have to pay. Pickens said the two are scheduled to talk more Tuesday.
Marsh did not respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment.
A board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 21 to decide the next steps for controlling the deer population, Pickens said.