WILD LIFE: Run, Bambi, run!

by Greg Kohn

The Montgomery County Parks Department will consider public opinion and the environmental impact in deciding whether sharpshooting some of the overpopulated deer in the Sligo Creek-area is necessary,  a spokesperson said on November 18.

The Montgomery County Deer Management Work Group closed a public online survey about the proposal on November 17, according to Rob Gibbs, the group’s chair. He said the group will now sift through more than a month’s worth of comments before deciding in early December if they proceed with curtailing back the deer population starting in January.

“It’s a controversial subject, but the majority of comments we’ve already looked at are coming back supportive of managing the deer population,” Gibbs said. “There’s not much we can do about a philosophical disagreement, but to the few who are opposed for safety reasons: those concerns have been addressed.”

The negative effects of a high deer population are numerous, according to Gibbs. The deer strip the ground-level vegetation bare, including the budding trees, threatening the habitat of animals that live nearby as well as the future viability of the forest. Hungry deer then ravage through neighborhood gardens, leading to a majority of the complaints made to the Parks department.

“Our goal is not to kill all the deer, but to restore some semblance of balance to the ecosystem,” Gibbs said. “This is our substitution for natural predation.”
Friends of Sligo Creek, a community organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the creek and the land surrounding it, have endorsed the Park’s proposal, according to the group’s president, Michael Wilpers.

“When the issue first came up, our board was divided on if we should take a formal position,” said Wilpers, who received his certificate in natural history field studies from the Audubon Naturalist Society. “But after 80% of 522 residents said they supported culling in a survey we conducted in 2009, we felt prepared to say the board supports the plan.”

Wilpers likewise highlighted the “veritable destruction” of the ground-level vegetation, which he said presents the long-term issue of not enough trees replacing the tree canopy and a more immediate problem for animals living near the ground. Two species of birds which nest close the forest floor have already disappeared in the Sligo Creek area, Wilpers said.

The Parks department has targeted the Sligo Golf Course as the first potential location for shooting the deer because it offers the largest non-residential area to work with, according to Gibbs. Based on a study the County conducted, the number of deer near the golf course is over four times the population size recommended for the region.

Sharpshooting has been conducted safely to scale back the deer population in a number of county parks for the past decade, but never in Sligo Creek, Gibbs said. Park police trained with specialized weapons conduct the hunt at night, killing deer in what Gibbs calls an “extremely safe and extremely humane manner.” The deer die close to instantaneously and all the meat is donated to charity.