Landowners with any parcel size in Great Falls have the option to use archery hunting for deer management on their private property, directly addressing the cause of deer damage: too many deer. Katherine Edwards, Ph.D., is a Certified Wildlife Biologist® Wildlife Management Specialist with Fairfax County Police Department. She said that the deer population within Fairfax County is still considered to be high and Fairfax County is identified as an area for deer herd reduction in the state-wide Deer Management Plan. “However, deer do not obey property lines and the majority of land within Fairfax County is private land. In order to more comprehensively address concerns related to deer and public safety, environmental damage, and residential property conflicts, a broader approach that includes deer population control and mitigation measures on both public and private lands is necessary. Generally speaking, archery hunting provides a safe, economical and effective method to reduce the local deer population in suburban areas and allows residents the ability to address conflicts associated with deer on their properties.”
According to the “Fairfax County 2019 Annual Report on the Environment,” “The population of deer that a healthy eastern forest ecosystem can support without damage to the native plant community and other animal species that these plants support is estimated to be between 10 and 25 deer per square mile… Deer density varies among parks with many sites in Fairfax County currently estimated at a minimum of 40 - 100 deer per square mile.”
ON NOV. 16, the Great Falls Citizens Association Environment and Parks Committee hosted “A Presentation on The Comprehensive, Long-term Management of Overabundant Deer in our Community” by Gerald (Jerry ) Peters, Director of Green Fire. It is a 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation that among other things, offers landowners experienced and qualified archers to assist with managing deer on their private property. “Everyone understands that we are losing natural landscapes to development…We build a house in the woods with a drain field and a driveway, we essentially take a cookie cutter out of the woods. That creates an edge habitat, which is ok if you’re deer, not so good say if you’re a deep woods specialty, say a Wood Thrush.”
During his presentation, Peters discussed his non-profit organization’s mission to restore wildlife habitats. According to Peters, the second biggest threat to wildlife habitats was the overabundant deer population attributed to the loss of predators. ”Every natural ecosystem needs predators,” he said. Peters said Green Fire harvests the deer on private land with the consent of the landowner.
Peters added, “In no case can the venison be sold – that is illegal by state law.” Hunting allows the resource (the venison), to be used for food by hunters and property owners or donated to Hunters for the Hungry “who distributes it to needy folks, in which case H4H pays for the processing.”
Environmental stewardship is key. Peters said, “Landowners have a responsibility for their land in a public welfare sense…The slogan of Green Fire is healthy forest, healthy wildlife and healthy people… Our vision is to have landowners educated and motivated to provide habitat stewardship on their own properties.” Peters’ view of stewardship compared comparably to that written in the “Annual Report on the Environment 2019 Fairfax County, Virginia Environmental Quality Advisory Council.” The stated Environmental Vision of the Board of Supervisors is: “An informed community works together with Fairfax County and its partners to care for and responsibly manage our treasured natural resources.”
Peters said there are things the homeowner can do now before Green Fire comes to help them with their deer population. “Surplus lawn, that is lawn that is not required for active use, kids playing soccer or football… (allow it) to secede to meadows or forests... That’s a natural process that can be accelerated… Second, point, don’t mow in the woods and don’t mulch under trees...And last, don’t feed wildlife.”
Of course, landowners could participate in deer population control themselves. Peters said some owners already hunt. Green Fire has a two-hour program for homeowners who want to learn how to do it themselves. According to data provided by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the total Fairfax County private land harvest was 1,408 deer for the 2019 season. This is the harvest from the “normal” season. There were an additional 137 deer harvested in the late season in Fairfax.”
PETERS said that the main way people can help Green Fire is to grant access to them to hunt on their property. “Or at least to track and retrieve if we’re hunting nearby. The deer don’t just drop in their tracks when we are using archery.” In addition, people can monitor deer activity by running trail cameras for Green Fire. “They tell us where they see the deer...That’s intelligence that our archers and I want to hear,” Peters said.
In 2015, when the Great Falls Citizens Association first invited Peters to speak, member Bill Canis said, “What is not acceptable is to do nothing…In 20 to 25 years, the understory will be gone. That is not the legacy we want to leave behind.” After the 2020 presentation Canis said, “Because of the work of Green Fire with the local residents to remove some deer each year, the understory is probably being helped. This is part of the Great Falls Citizens Association’s priorities to educate residents on deer-related issues.”
Highlights of Questions and Answers
Q - What is the reasonable goal for the deer population? Is it to get it to zero or to reduce it to a certain level? (Sanford Friedenthal of Great Falls)
A -There’s no way to get it to zero… (Peters)
Q - When I go walking, I see herds of deer (that run along the gas pipeline). I wonder if Green Fire is doing archery on those pipelines?... And a follow-up question, have you had success speaking to an HOA and getting the whole HOA to agree to let Green Fire in? (Anna Freska of Great Falls)
A - The easements for the gas pipelines, they are not easements for archers. (Second question) “The answer is a big fat no.”
Peters recommended that private property owners who are interested in safety and liability concerns should see VA DGIF's publication “Hunting on Private Property”. Also see “A Landowner's Guide To Working With Sportsmen In Virginia” by Peter T. Bromley, Extension Specialist, Wildlife, Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, Virginia Tech.