WASHINGTON DC- Sharpshooters will be taking aim at deer in Rock Creek Park. It is part of plans by the National Park Service to thin the herd.
The hunt will take place during the night between now and the end of March, even as opponents continue to fight the deer killings in court.
The park won the first round and began using sharpshooters last spring to reduce the deer population, but an appeal is pending. In the meantime, the park service is moving forward using lethal means.
“I don’t think it’s right,” Zach Simon said, explaining, “I don’t like hunting in general.”
What it comes down to is too many deer. There are so many, they don’t just stay in Rock Creek Park, but are venturing into D.C. neighborhoods and streets.
“I’ve seen [them] on Connecticut Avenue in rush hour,” said Steve Stern.
Near the park, some homeowners complain the deer eat their plants, become roadway obstacles and many seem sickly because of the overpopulation.
The National Park Service counts 77 deer per square mile in the park, about four times the number of deer it can sustain. The park’s answer is to reduce the population over the next three months with sharpshooters.
“Right now, deer are eating almost all tree seedlings that grow, and if new plants and new trees can’t grow, no forest will be able to regenerate,” said Jennifer Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokesperson for the National Park Service.
This is not an open hunt. They will be using bait in some cases to attract the deer, with marksmen from the U.S. Department of Agriculture waiting to make the kill.
But opponents argued it would be better to use non-lethal methods like chemical birth control.
“There’s got to be some other options,” Karine Perla said. “They’re just trying the easy way to get rid of them.”
According to the park service, no birth control meets its requirements right now, but it could use non-lethal options once the deer population is under control.
The park service won’t give exact dates when sharpshooters will be out. The window allows them to do it any night between January 2, 2014 and March 31, 2014 between 9:30 p.m. and 4 a.m. Roads will be closed when any sharpshooting is underway.
Supporters believe this is the best way, leaving it in the hands of professionals.
“You’re not wounding them with a bow and arrow. You’re not wounding them with untrained shooters and they do have to be cleared out,” said Stern.
Any deer killed will go to homeless shelters and places to feed the needy. The target is to kill 106 deer during the three-month window, but getting the population down to the goal of 15 to 20 per square mile will take several years.
Last March, when sharpshooters were first used to reduce the deer population, only 20 were killed. That is well short of the 60 to 70 expected, but the park service had a much shorter window, only four days, because it was held up in court.