Mont­gomery’s deer prob­lem may get worse

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY PEGGY DEN­NIS AND MARK EAKIN Peggy Den­nis is past pres­i­dent of the Mont­gomery County Civic Fed­er­a­tion. Mark Eakin is di­rec­tor of the An­i­mal Con­nec­tion Deer Man­age­ment Team.

For the past sev­eral years, the Wildlife and Her­itage Service of the Mary­land De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources has worked with the Mont­gomery County Council and county res­i­dents to lib­er­al­ize the reg­u­la­tions on bow-and-ar­row hunt­ing for white-tailed deer.

The “safety zone” has been de­creased to 50 yards in recog­ni­tion of the fact that archery hunt­ing is safe, quiet and dis­creet. To date, there have been no recorded in­stances of a non-hunter, pet or live­stock in­jured or killed by a bowhunter in Mary­land. Sun­day hunt­ing has also been ex­panded.

These mea­sures are badly needed to cull the herds of deer that have taken over our stream val­leys and com­mu­nity parks and our sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods and yards.

Un­for­tu­nately, this year the De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources (DNR) pro­poses to limit the num­ber of antler­less deer that can be har­vested in archery sea­son. Now, shot­gun and muz­zleloader sea­sons have a limit of 10 antler­less deer. De­spite archery sea­son last­ing ap­prox­i­mately 80 per­cent of the hunt­ing sea­son, the DNR pro­poses to im­pose a limit of 10 antler­less deer dur­ing archery sea­son as well. The rea­son? Hunters in ru­ral parts of Mary­land com­plain they are see­ing fewer deer. So, to as­suage the con­cerns of ru­ral hunters, the DNR pro­poses to limit archery hunt­ing in the sub­ur­ban parts of the state as well.

There are a lim­ited num­ber of bowhunters with the high skills and the ap­pro­pri­ate mind-set for deer pop­u­la­tion con­trol in sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods. These hunters are al­ready har­vest­ing large num­bers of deer over the long archery sea­son. Forc­ing them to re­duce the num­ber of deer they har­vest in sub­ur­ban ar­eas will do nothing to im­prove hunter sat­is­fac­tion in ru­ral coun­ties, but it will limit hunters’ abil­ity to re­duce deer pop­u­la­tions in sub­ur­ban coun­ties. Some of the deer these hunters har­vest are do­nated to pro­grams such as Farm­ers and Hunters Feed­ing the Hun­gry, pro­vid­ing thou­sands of meals ev­ery year.

The Mont­gomery County Civic Fed­er­a­tion strongly sup­ports ef­forts to cull the deer herds. Over­pop­u­la­tion of deer se­verely de­grades our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. In parks from the Ch­e­sa­peake & Ohio Canal Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Park to stream val­leys and re­gional and com­mu­nity parks across the county, deer have browsed veg­e­ta­tion from the ground up to five feet. A lack of ground cover or saplings de­prives small mam­mals and ground-nest­ing birds of habi­tat. Rain on bare soil causes soil ero­sion, fur­ther de­grad­ing the nat­u­ral and healthy en­vi­ron­ment. Some environmental sci­en­tists be­lieve that the environmental dam­age caused by deer over­pop­u­la­tion is se­cond only to cli­mate change as a cause for con­cern.

In Mont­gomery County, we have more than 2,000 re­ported deer-ve­hi­cle col­li­sions each year; in­sur­ance com­pa­nies es­ti­mate an equal num­ber go un­re­ported. This poses a sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic-safety prob­lem. Then there is the risk to pub­lic health. Deer and deer ticks carry Lyme dis­ease, tu­laremia, ehrli­chio­sis, babesio­sis and Powas­san virus. Our county spends sig­nif­i­cant funds an­nu­ally related to deer. Mont­gomery Parks con­ducts man­aged hunts within more than two dozen parks, cost­ing $459,971 in 2016. In that year, the county paid an additional $100,047 to col­lect and dis­pose of road­kill, plus $20,000 to have sur­plus deer taken by hunters, pro­fes­sional and ama­teur, pro­cessed and dis­trib­uted to help feed the hun­gry.

In 2016, the DNR thanked us for our “on­go­ing commitment to facilitating hunt­ing as a pri­mary tool for man­ag­ing our sub­ur­ban deer pop­u­la­tions.” Why is it now propos­ing reg­u­la­tions that will un­der­mine the very man­age­ment tool it has cham­pi­oned? The DNR should re­in­sti­tute the old Sub­ur­ban Deer Archery Zone in Mont­gomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arun­del, Howard and Bal­ti­more coun­ties, which al­lowed for un­lim­ited har­vest of antler­less deer dur­ing archery sea­son. This will al­low bowhunters to con­tinue to help re­duce deer over­pop­u­la­tion in these coun­ties, and al­low the DNR to ap­ply lower lim­its in ru­ral ar­eas as it sees fit to ben­e­fit hunter sat­is­fac­tion.

RICKY CARIOTI/THE WASHINGTON POST

White-tailed deer in 2014 in My­ersville.

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