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By M. Alouette
You might visit Washington, D.C. for a glimpse of the White House, the monuments, bona fide politicos, or...white-tailed deer?
Perhaps not for long.
Bambis are so prevalent in Rock Creek Park* that the National Park Service has estimated that about 70 deer inhabit every square mile of the park, about four times what experts say the ecosystem can healthily support. The New York Times dubbed it “a surplus Washington could do without.” In 2012, Rock Creek came up with a plan to manage the deer population—or as the plan states it, reduce “the park's deer population through lethal and non-lethal means” over the course of the next 15 years.
Despite protests from the Washington Humane Society and the national animal rights group, In Defense of Animals, the park acted on that plan with sharpshooters. Department of Agriculture shooters had killed 106 white-tailed deer in the 2,000-plus acre park by the end of the 2014 short killing season on March 31. Those 106 deer translated into 3,300 pounds of venison that then went to D.C. Central Kitchen in May. D.C. Central Kitchen prepares 5,000 meals a day for capital city community centers and shelters. Managers report that some clients felt uncomfortable eating the venison when they learned it came from Rock Creek.
Last August, In Defense of Animals and the Washington Humane Society sent a petition containing more than 11,000 signatures to the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. They demanded that the killing be stopped and that the deer be given birth control instead. U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins ruled out the lawsuit filed by five D.C. residents to halt the hunting.
White-tailed deer are so common in the D.C. metro area that suburbs like Fairfax County in Virginia regularly schedule managed hunts. Hunt participants are selected via lottery and must qualify with the Fairfax County Police Department. Each hunter is allowed three shots per weapon: shotgun with buckshot, shotgun with slugs, or muzzleloaders. Fairfax County estimates that an average of 4,000 to 5,000 deer-vehicle collisions occur in the county each year—and that's just in Fairfax. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries issued its revised deer management plan as early as 2006; the plan is slated to run through 2015.
The National Park Service hopes to achieve target density in Rock Creek by Spring 2015.
Curious about what animal activists are saying about the future of deer in Rock Creek Park? Follow the Save the Rock Creek Park Deer page on Facebook.
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