August 21, 2002
The number of annual deer-related car accidents in Montgomery County has more than doubled over the last 10 years, one of several factors leading Montgomery County to consider lethal means — hunting and sharpshooting — of controlling the deer population.
Close to home is the proposed managed deer hunt to take place at Blockhouse Point Conservation Park, a 67-acre area tract of forest off River Road in Potomac.
"WE KNOW the deer population is well above the level that we are going to have problems," said Bill Hamilton, wildlife ecologist at the county Park and Planning Department.
The Montgomery County Police Department reported 2,003 deer-auto accidents in 2001, up from 782 in 1992.
"We consider that a major public safety issue," said Bill Hamilton, wildlife ecologist at the county Park and Planning Department.
Damage to vegetation, however, is an effect of deer overpopulation that looms large at Blockhouse Point, an ecologically sensitive park. The county's FY 2003 deer management report identifies the park as a "hotspot area," with damage to vegetation as one of the major impacts. An estimated deer population of 97 per square mile lives in the park, according to the report.
"Deer have a profound effect on forest habitat," said Hamilton, who said that Blockhouse Point is a critical habitat.
The park contains threatened, endangered or watchlist wildlife including nine species of plants, according to Park and Planning.
DEER POPULATION is at a problematic level, agrees Ginny Barnes, president of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association. However, Barnes stresses that the animals are not to blame.
"They are not the culprits," said Barnes. "They're the victims of an ecosystem that is no longer in balance. … We have changed the ecosystem by development."
"Their population has exploded, and their food source has been diminished," said Barnes, who has seen deer resort to eating such unappetizing fare as English ivy during winter months. "We have to address that. … You don't have healthy animals if they're overpopulated."
"It's more challenging dealing with suburban situations," said Ken D'Loughy, central regional manager at the Wildlife and Heritage Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "Typically we hear from farmers that are suffering losses to their crops."
"The number one reason for citizen complaint is property damage," said Hamilton.
"I'm not sure what's right, what's wrong, what's appropriate and what's not," said Barnes on deer management measures. "This discussion needs to be framed in terms of an ecosystem out of balance."
Non-lethal methods are the typical course of first resort for county and state officials.
"We usually recommend anything from using repellents to alternative plant materials to fencing," said D'Loughy.
"WE ARE GOING TO be proposing a managed hunting plan using licensed hunters," said Hamilton.
The Blockhouse Point hunt proposal calls for hunters shooting from pre-selected elevated sites during a five-weekday stretch of hunting season.
"Park police officers will be on-site," said Hamilton, who said that the park will be closed to visitors from sunrise until 1 p.m. on the designated days.
"Because we haven't made a decision yet, we want to hear from the public," said Hamilton. "We know people have different opinions."
Park and Planning will hold a meeting to discuss the managed hunt in the all-purpose room of Travilah Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 27, from 7-9:30 p.m.