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Votes

To Shoot Deer in Potomac?

Can the ecology of Blockhouse Point Conservation Park be saved with the barrel of a gun?

Park and Planning is considering a managed deer hunt for Blockhouse Point Conservation Park this winter.

"The recommendation in the deer report is for expanding our deer population management program. The primary reason is we know we have a large deer population and it is one of the most important parks ecologically. We want to keep it in balance," said Rob Gibbs, of Park and Planning.

PARK AND PLANNING hosted its annual public information meeting on the County's deer management program on Tuesday, June 18, after the Almanac's press deadline.

The number of deer in Blockhouse Point is on the rise, something that threatens both plant and wildlife, especially birds, in the 67-acre forest off River Road.

"Certainly, there are impacts involved with a managed hunt — we can't float over the ground — but we try to minimize that in conservation parks. In terms of balance, do we do some damage and do our best to minimize it or do we leave the park up to the deer where it will all eventually be damaged?"

"I DON'T HAVE a position; I have a number of questions," said Ginny Barnes, a Potomac environmentalist. "Most importantly, what data do we have to show whether or not having a big deer hunt works?

"I would rather see some discussion of what we are looking at here — ecosystems out of balance. We've helped create this problem. We have to find more creative solutions," she said.

Because deer have multiplied without the threat predators (other than the automobile), plant and wildlife species are in danger.

"From a plant perspective, you start to lose species of plants over time. Deer have preferred species to eat. Those disappear over time with pressure from deer and those deer don't like get a leg up," said Gibbs. "In the long term, you lose diversity of species plant wise and we are losing regeneration of the forest. Young trees that should replace the older trees aren't surviving."

A number of different species of birds, especially those forest birds that depend on insects that feed off vegetation, are also threatened by unmanaged deer populations, according to Gibbs. Nesting locations become more vulnerable when deer grazing thins the forest.

"A lot of forest birds are in decline, most are migratory birds. Two times a year they have a perilous journey," said Gibbs. "They only nest once a year. If that one brood of young are eaten by their predators, a whole year of reproduction is lost."

PARK AND PLANNING will solicit feedback on this at Tuesday's meeting as well as from written feedback sent from the public. Donald Cochran, director of parks, will take the recommendation of the Montgomery County Deer Management Work Group and, if he decides to look at the managed deer hunt further, additional public meetings will be held specifically for Blockhouse Point.

"How do we get the ecosystem back in balance? How effective is this approach?" are some of the questions Barnes would want answered. "We need to know that before we continue down this path. We have to have some data on the effects."

A MANAGED HUNT would take place in the hunting season around the beginning of December.

If this option is pursued, the park would be closed to all other uses — approximately for a four-day period — and Park and Planning would post signs around the border and send adjacent land owners letters notifying them of the hunt.

"Generally we concentrate the hunt into a narrow window of time," said Gibbs.

"Their intent to go in there and control the damage is the right motive, I think," said Ron La Coss, a teacher from Landon who often takes students to Blockhouse Point to study the ecology the conservation park offers. "Whether it works or not is a tough one.

"I'm skeptical only because if you go in there and shoot, how long before they all come back. There is evidence that [hunts] do damage to the forest, but we're caught between a rock and a hard place. … We've given the deer this nice habitat, whatever decisions are made, don't blame the deer."