Since 1999, Montgomery County’s Department of Parks has conducted police-based sharpshooting in 17 county parks to manage the deer overpopulation issue by reducing the herd sizes. Early next year, those sharpshooters may train their rifles on the Sligo Creek area.
It is estimated that the Sligo Creek Park area can support up to ten deer without significant damage to the ecosystem, yet current population estimates place the deer herd numbers at ten times that figure.
While the ultimate decision to undertake a deer herd thinning effort resides with Montgomery Parks Director Mary Bradford, a number of factors are taken into account.
“We look at the impact of deer on natural ecosystems, the number of auto accidents, the feasibility of taking action based on the physical location and citizen complaints, which in regards to the Sligo location, is one where they came to us,” Rob Gibbs, Natural Resources Manager for Montgomery-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission said.
Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC)—a community organization that stewards the Sligo watershed to maintain its ecological well-being—formally endorsed the culling of deer in Sligo Creek Park in a letter of support dated August 8, 2011.
“In decimating the Park's undergrowth through browsing, the overpopulation of deer has created an unnatural no-grow zone in our woodlands from ground level up to about six feet,” said Michael Wilpers, current FOSC president. “The resulting loss of wild plants, shrubs, and young trees is preventing the regeneration of our woodlands and denying safe sites for breeding, cover, or overwintering to a host of animals.”
While deer culling has been a topic of debate within the group since 2008, the group did not choose to provide its support until the completion of a survey of 522 residents in the neighborhoods surrounding .
However, some residents are strongly opposed to the sharpshooting method, and FOSC’s support.
In an Oct. 17, email to Parks director Mary Bradford, Comstock Branch resident George Neighbors expressed that he is “horrified at the imminent slaughter of deer scheduled for this winter,” and urges “the Parks Department to reconsider the shooting of deer in Sligo Creek.”
His email went on to state his appreciation that the deer are impacting the area’s plants, he believes that “there have to be non-lethal and non-violent methods implemented to sustain all native life in Sligo.”
As early as 1995, the county investigated non-lethal alternatives, including relocation and birth control. According to Department of Parks’ Natural Resource Manager Rob Gibbs, overpopulation plagues much of the county and the State of Maryland (who has regulatory authority) does not allow the relocation of deer. In regards to birth control, there are no options that are viable from a safety standpoint for either the deer or county workers.
Gonacon, which was just recently approved by the FDA as a deer contraceptive, has to be administered by hand, and can lead to capture myopathy – which can cripple or be lethal to wild animals.
If the Sligo Creek deer population is culled by the County’s sharpshooter program, the meat will be harvested by a contracted butcher—at a cost of $30 per deer to obtain 40 pounds of meat on average—and donated to the Capital Area Food Bank. To date, the program has donated almost 150,000 pounds of meat which equates to almost 400,000 servings.
The Department of Parks is accepting public comments on the proposed initiative until 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10. via email at MCPemail@example.com, or via the U.S. Mail at: Montgomery County Department of Parks, M-NCPPC, C/O Deer Management Initiatives, Natural Resource Stewardship Section, 2000 Shorefield Road, Wheaton, MD 20902.