Starting this September, four Montgomery County parks – two in Silver Spring (Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park Unit Four and Sligo Creek Stream Valley Park Unit 5) and two in Potomac (Watts Branch Stream Valley Park Unit Three and Unit Four) – will allow the public to bow-hunt and shotgun-hunt for deer as part of […]
Starting this September, four Montgomery County parks – two in Silver Spring (Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park Unit Four and Sligo Creek Stream Valley Park Unit 5) and two in Potomac (Watts Branch Stream Valley Park Unit Three and Unit Four) – will allow the public to bow-hunt and shotgun-hunt for deer as part of a County program to address deer overpopulation. The program also allows parks to call in specially-trained police sharpshooters to hunt for deer after nightfall from trees when nobody is allowed inside the park.
According to Maryland hunting laws, those who bow-hunt must shoot at least “50 yards” from “any building or camp occupied by human beings.” Hunters using a gun must be at least “150 yards” away.
Days for gun hunting are planned ahead of time by the County, the state, or the parks, and the parks will be closed to the public on those days. However, archers will be allowed to hunt during usual hours when the parks are open to the public because archery “has little impact on communities,” says Ryan Butler, a Montgomery Parks official.
There is currently no limit to the amount of deer a hunter can catch as long as the deer has no antlers.
To Butler, the need for deer-population control is clear. He estimates that there are “close to a hundred deer per square mile” countywide, based on the results of various localized photo surveys. He believes that the deer population is increasing throughout the County.
A resident in the Potomac area, near Watts Branch Stream Valley Park, said that deer are a “big problem,” especially since they destroy her neighbors’ vegetable gardens and because they have “no predators.”
Besides destroying vegetable gardens, deer pose a serious financial problem for the agricultural industry. According to the 2014 Agriculture Damage Survey, $4,411,786 of crops were lost because of deer that year.
Jeremy Criss, the Montgomery County Agriculture Director who helped research for the survey, says that although he has not surveyed damage for 2018, he believes the amount of damage would be “similar” since birth rates are “not so different” from the rate at which deer are killed.
Too many deer also pose a public safety threat. Their feces can contain E. coli bacteria, which cause vomiting and diarrhea, and they can carry ticks which spread Lyme disease. Although the deer themselves do not directly contribute to the disease, Butler said they “provide a large breeding ground for ticks and contribute in some way to the proliferation of ticks.”
An additional, although not as worrisome, issue, are deer attacks on humans. According to Butler, the past two years have seen two attacks involving minor cuts and bruises, which he said “is not very typical,” and these are the first deer attacks he’s seen during his 14 years with Montgomery Parks.
Laura Mol, a 30-year resident of Sligo Woods, a neighborhood near a unit of Sligo Creek Valley Park that has been a part of this program for about eight years, believes there were “fewer deer” in the general area after implementation of the program. Recently, however, she feels the population is “going up again.” because she has seen “deer in [her] yard.”
Butler claimed that in areas around parks where the program has been implemented, the population “stabilized after a couple of years” and that the “natural native vegetation [is] finding a way to come back.” He also claimed that parks with the management program have seen “40 to 60 percent fewer” deer and car collisions than those that don’t have it.
On the other hand, Jeff Kerr, general counsel to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), described the population-management program as being “an absurd, endless, and cruel cycle.” According to Kerr, killing deer will cause “an artificial spike in the available food supply,” which the deer “will fill in,” and take “as a sign that it is OK for them to breed because the food supply will be sufficient.”
He also emphasized the cruelty in hunting, saying that injured deer sometimes “suffer for hours or days on end.”
As an alternative, Kerr proposed that the County parks system plant native plants “that [have] a natural resistance to local deer,” or set up simple items like scarecrows, radios, fencing, pepper spray, or soap around areas that should not have deer.
Another concern for hunting as a form of deer management is the safety of people who live around the parks implementing the program. A resident near Watts Branch Stream Valley Park noted that the hunters’ distance requirement from populated areas would be “hard to enforce,” as it is “hard to see in the forest.” The resident said she would feel reassured if she knew there were “enough police officers and rangers to oversee” hunting in the parks.
There are currently no other species who are hunted to control population. Butler said there are no other species that are “a concern.” Many invasive creatures, such as the snakehead fish, “are still quite new” to the local ecosystem.