Friday, September 4, 2009

Stop Deer from Destroying Rock Creek Park

There are far too many deer in Rock Creek Park. I'm not talking about how they leave the park to eat your hostas. They're hurting the park itself. Please take a minute to read this post and do something about it.

Estimates of how many deer can live sustainably in a forest vary, but the park's science team thinks 15 to 20 deer per square mile is reasonable for Rock Creek Park. Before European settlement of this region, there were even fewer -- maybe 8 to 11 deer per square mile. The number in Rock Creek Park? As of 2007, 82 deer per square mile and growing at 20% per year. Yikes.

At this population level, deer are preventing regeneration of the forest. Tree seedlings get chomped by a passing deer before they can grow large enough to survive. The loss of vegetation can also increase erosion and stormwater runoff, and it destroys cover that protects numerous birds and other animals. Not to mention destroying the shrubs and plants themselves.

How did we get to this point? First of all, there are no deer predators left in the District, other than cars. Second, ongoing development in the suburbs creates lots of "edge" habitat where deer thrive, while simultaneously reducing hunting. And Rock Creek is part of a long green corridor that reaches into Montgomery County, meaning what is going on up there can affect conditions in the park.

In light of all this, the park has developed a new deer management plan. This 400-page report is full of interesting information (including a list of endangered and rare species in the park, bird lists, and maps of dominant vegetation types, which may inspire other posts here soon). But most importantly, it describes four alternatives for dealing with the deer:

  1. No new action - Monitoring, data management, research, and use of protective caging and repellents in landscaped areas; the deer population would likely continue to grow.
  2. Non-lethal actions - Very large fenced areas (5% of the park) would allow some forest regeneration while park staff would slowly reduce the deer population through reproductive control. There would still be a lot of damage to unfenced areas in the park while we wait for the population to decline.
  3. Lethal actions - Killing the deer through sharpshooting (and by capture and killing where sharpshooting would not be appropriate). This would rapidly reduce the deer population to a sustainable level.
  4. Both lethal and non-lethal actions (the recommended alternative) - quickly reduce the number of deer, following up with population control so they never get back to this point.

The park is asking for feedback on these options. You can weigh in by mail or online. The comment periods ends on October 2, 2009. If you love Rock Creek Park, please take a minute to submit a comment on the plan. And if you've got another minute, come back here and leave your comment as a comment on this post. We'd love to see what you said!

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.

6 comments:

Elizabeth @ the Natural Capital said...

Here's what I submitted:

I am writing in strong support of option D in the White-tailed Deer Management Plan for Rock Creek Park. I am a frequent user of the park and I have seen first-hand the damage that deer are doing to the understory. It is my hope that a rapid reduction in the number of deer will allow the forest to regenerate more quickly than under any other option. Park lovers would soon see the improvement with more wildflowers and birds, and there would be less visible, but also important, improvements in water quality and erosion control.

Thank you for all you do to protect this amazing resource in our nation's capital.

Cyndy said...

As much as I hate the idea of hunting and interfering with nature, I also choose option D, because it addresses the problem both immediately, and for the future. We need Rock Creek Park much more than we need huge herds of deer. And the deer that remain will likely have a better quality of life. But it's still a shame that it has come to this.

Anderkoo said...

I run frequently on the Rock Creek Park trails, and while I've only spotted deer a few times, I trust the experts' evaluation of their population explosion and negative impact on the area's flora. Because of human uses like my own, natural predation is not a viable option for the Park. Therefore I support both Options C and D.

Is there any way to make use of the deer that are culled, perhaps as venison? It seems like a terrible waste to simply dispose of them.

mattandeliz said...

Good point Anderkoo -- the plan says they're hoping to donate the meat to local programs for the hungry.

RayZorback said...

PLEASE RESEARCH: Quality Deer Management philosophies from the QDMA. We use it on our property and have never been happier! They have GREAT management programs to keep deer healthy, happy, & controlled.

That being said, C needs to happen. There are too many deer everywhere. You need to eliminate more does and large old bucks. Deer eat an INSANE amount. Donate the meat to a local soup kitchen and help provide quality, lean meat for the hungry. Contact local hunters groups for cooking instructions.
DO NOT WASTE the deer meat!
After the first few years, the number of deer you take from the property should decrease. In the first two seasons, you will have to take a lot of deer to make it sustainable. Then every year, take enough to keep the ecosystem balanced.
We have really enjoyed the QDMA program on our property and have noticed a difference in the heard on our properties. You may have to partner with surrounding property owners as well.
Good luck.

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