S.C. House bill controls use of contraceptives on deer

BEAUFORT -- State legislators are stepping into the arena of reproductive law again in a bid to regulate the use of birth control -- on deer.

The House passed a bill Wednesday that makes it illegal to use fertility control agents or chemical substances on deer and other wildlife without a permit from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Violators could face a fine of up to $2,500 and two years in prison. The bill must pass the Senate and be signed by governor to become law.

Permits would be eligible for scientific research or for wildlife management as approved by the department, the bill states.

Charles Ruth, a department wildlife biologist who supervises deer and turkey projects statewide, said the bill is intended to reinforce a practice already in place but not codified in law. It would keep wildlife contraceptives from being used "willy-nilly."

Contraceptives that target mammals such as deer are particularly worrisome.

"People are mammals. There are possibilities of non-target effects," Ruth said. "What we're trying to (ensure) is in the event some of these substances are put on the market that they are used appropriately and by responsible and trained individuals."

Deer contraceptives are in use -- with the blessing of the Department of Natural Resources -- on Fripp Island as part of a five-year study.

Donations from Fripp Island property owners partially pay for the $170,000 study, which serves as an alternative to the professional culling several gated communities in southern Beaufort County use to thin deer populations, also a process that requires permits from the Department of Natural Resources.

Other than Fripp Island, the only permit the department issued for deer contraceptives went to Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, though the non-lethal effort to reduce deer population in the community fizzled with a failed lawsuit.

A community management company wanted to kill about 200 deer in the late 1990s, which a community group objected to and contested in court.