In recent years, the deer population inside the beltway has exploded. Drivers are swerving to avoid deer in the streets, while homeowners are at their wit’s end trying to rid their property of visiting deer that decimate their landscape plants and garden beds.
Takoma and Silver Spring residents living by park land and alongside stream valleys are particularly feeling the impact of the deer invasion. “I’ve lived backing onto Sligo Creek Park for almost 15 years. Year by year, I’m seeing more deer coming into the yard, eating down more of the vegetation,” said Kit Gage on Park Crest Drive in Silver Spring, MD.
Deer are eating most all the understory growth in local parks as well, effectively taking away the available food sources from birds and other animals. Native sapling trees have zero chance of making it to maturity and eventually replacing trees lost to storm damage or old age. New native plantings installed by volunteer groups are quickly consumed as well.
The Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC), an environmental stewardship group, made the radical decision a few years ago to request deer population management programming around the Sligo Golf Course. While not all members of FOSC agree with the solution of bringing in sharp-shooters during the winter months, most of those active in FOSC have resigned themselves to the fact that this is the only viable solution so that the native habitat can have a fighting chance to recover.
Deer hanging out in Silver Spring. Photo by Kathy Jentz.
“I support the proposed managed hunts,” said Gage. “Deer are massively overpopulated, so they’re foraging in more and more dangerous (for them) locations. In reduced numbers, deer will fit better into the biome and be healthier.”
Damage to landscape plantings is just one of the many problems the deer bring. There are about 2,000 deer-vehicle collisions in the county annually. They also carry the ticks that spread Lyme Disease. Both humans and pets can contract this debilitating disease.
The county parks report increasing calls from residents complaining of increasing deer problems. Some report deer so tame they no longer have any fear of humans and are causing a physical danger to children playing in their own yards.
Meanwhile, neighborhood emails lists are heating up with proponents on both sides of the deer fence. “I am horrified at the imminent slaughter of deer scheduled for this winter,” posted one resident in downtown Silver Spring, MD.
For the 2012-2013 hunting season, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports that 87,541 deer were harvested statewide. This is a decrease of about 11 % from the 2011-2012 season when 98,029 deer were harvested. Hunter donate deer to be processed and given to area food banks, shelters, or other non-profit organizations to the tune of 64,560 pounds in the 9 seasons from 2004-2013.
Some residents question if all non-lethal tactics have been explored and whether sharp-shooting is the best remedy in a densely populated area. Rob Gibbs, natural resources manager for M-NCPPC and chair of Montgomery County Deer Management Work Group, “We give workshops for county homeowners on deer control tactics such as repellants and fencing, but none of those methods apply to a forest management situation.”
This article originally appeared in of PATCH.com in slightly different version.