In a public information meeting Thursday, May 4, at Great Falls Tavern, National Park officials shared information on deer management options for white tailed deer in the C&O Canal and Harpers Ferry National Historical Parks.
The meeting was conducted as an informal open house with information boards placed throughout the tavern showing damage deer overpopulation can cause, solutions to overpopulation and the next steps the National Park Service has to take to decide on and implement a plan to cope with too many deer. Park Service employees were on hand to answer questions and discuss problems and solutions.
“What we are doing is offering alternatives,” said Michelle Carter, National Parks Service natural resource manager. “We are asking for feedback from the public in case we missed anything.”
The problem is that deer population in the two parks has grown to unsustainable numbers, according to Carter. The deer population in the C&O Canal NHP in 2015 was estimated to be between 60 and 150 deer per square mile.
“Research suggests a density of 15-20 deer per square mile is necessary for a forest to be sustainable,” according to the website nps.gov.
For the parks, this means the deer feed on understory vegetation, destroying young trees and shrubs and reducing the ability of the natural habitat to regenerate. This causes erosion problems and loss of natural habitat for birds and other animals.
“In addition, deer browsing has resulted in damage to crops and associated vegetation that are key components of the historic landscape,” according to the website.
Another problem caused by overpopulation is the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease in deer. It is believed to be spread from animal to animal.
Basically, the alternatives offered at the meeting for dealing with the deer population ranged from doing nothing to “… combined lethal, and nonlethal deer management.”
This means hiring sharpshooters to cull deer populations, limited capture and euthanasia and use of reproductive controls. Effective “reproductive controls,” deer birth control, has not yet been found, according to staff at the meeting. Leaving lethal methods the only useful alternative at this point.
“Safety is our biggest concern, both for our visitors and our neighbors,” Carter said.
She also said the purpose of the meeting was to let people know about the research that has been done concerning alternative solutions to deer overpopulation and to get citizen comment.
Public comments will be accepted until May 16 at parkpanning.nps.gov C&O Canal NHP and Harpers Ferry NHP Deer Management Plan and EA select Public Comment.