Sharpshooting key to new Rock Creek Park deer management plan
After months of planning, the National Park Service has released its final plan for managing the white-tailed deer population of Rock Creek Park. In the park, which includes the parkland west of Georgetown and north of Burleith, “the population of deer is now so great that it has compromised the ability of native forests to regenerate,” according to the NPS. Lacking predators, deer have proliferated in the park, devouring plant and tree seedlings. The NPS aims to reduce the white-tail population by more than 50 percent.
To remedy the problem, the NPS prefers to first utilize “sharpshooting and capture/euthanasia” to quickly reduce the deer population. After the first period of culling, the Park Service will attempt to employ sterilization as a long-term reproductive control method. If sterilization is not feasible, bow-and-arrow sharpshooting will continue to be the primary option to control the deer population.
“Reducing the deer herd is absolutely necessary in order to maintain Rock Creek Park the way it exists for future generations,” NPS spokesperson Bill Line told WJLA-TV. The resulting deer meat will be donated to food banks in the area.
The plan is expected to be adopted in February, and sharpshooters could begin to cull the population later this year, assuming the NPS receives the necessary funding to change its existing policies. The park’s current deer management policies have included intense monitoring vegetation and deer density, and limited use of repellents to protect rare plants and cultural areas, but they have been unable to reduce the effects of “deer overbrowsing.”
In September, the Voice applauded a similar program in Fairfax County, which has drawn criticism from Fairfax residents and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Such management programs are ultimately beneficial to both human and deer populations. In some areas of the county there were 400 deer per square mile, vastly exceeding the ratio of 20 deer per square mile considered healthy, according to a statement in the Washington Post by a county wildlife biologist. There are 80 deer per square mile in Rock Creek Park, according to a fall 2011 study.
Image: Mike Licht