Thursday, October 9, 2014

HHS Seeks Birth Control... For Deer

    These days, mentioning birth control and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the same sentence will likely draw some strong reactions. But a recent contractor inquiry by HHS for its National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland adds a new wrinkle. This time, the focus is on deer.
     The NIH site in Maryland is a 500-acre research facility, fully enclosed with a nine-foot perimeter fence and access gates. Lately, the campus has been, relatively speaking, overrun with deer; in this case, overrun means an estimated population of thirty to forty. A Youtube video taken earlier this year on the campus near the access gates illustrates the dilemma in which NIH finds itself:

    As the video shows and the documents say, "[t]he campus is densely developed with few remaining open spaces suitable as deer habitat.  The property is surrounded by high density residential and commercial development."  After mentioning that hunting has never been permitted on campus, the HHS document deadpans that "there are no non-human predators present that are capable of limiting a deer population," a fact for which NIH employees are no doubt grateful. So now that the deer population has reached "a level that is incompatible with some local land uses," NIH is seeking a solution and seems to have settled upon birth control: specifically, ovariectomies.
    Apparently thinking long-term, NIH is not looking for a contractor simply to perform the initial work, but one that can train NIH veterinary staff to perform the operations in the future:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Research Services (ORS), within the Office of the Director (OD) has a requirement to provide the NIH with wildlife expertise for the control of the deer population on the Bethesda Campus.  The contractor will perform ovariectomies on adult female deer, provide tagging and provide expert advice for humanely controlling the deer population.   Additionally, the contractor will provide training of NIH veterinary staff in the performance of ovariectomies in deer.
    The NIH plan includes using tranquilizer darts to catch an appropriate number of does to sufficiently regulate the size of the deer population. After the operations, the does will be monitored for infection and treated for pain as well before being released. And although hunting is still forbidden on campus, NIH is taking no chances. One of the requirements of the contract is that "[a]ll ovariectomized animals will be fitted with livestock ear tags labeled 'Do Not Consume'."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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