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Deer Dilemma Part 4: The contraception question

Tuesday - 3/5/2013, 12:01pm  ET

deer, rock creek park
Rob Gibbs is the Natural Resources Manager for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) Montgomery Parks. Gibbs says contraception for deer is complicated due to EPA guidelines.(WTOP/Michelle Basch)
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EPA guidelines strict on birth control

WTOP's Michelle Basch reports. (Runs 1:52)

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Michelle Basch, wtop.com

Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of "Deer Dilemma," a WTOP series about the controversial deer hunt planned for Rock Creek Park.

WASHINGTON - The National Park Service considered the possibility of using contraception to control the deer population in Rock Creek Park, but decided it was not the best choice right now.

Instead, a plan is underway to hunt the deer and cull the population throughout the next several years.

Deer kill opponent Anne Barton, who was once an EPA biostatistician, thinks the National Park Service is being unfair.

"For the contraception, they had these four or five criteria that they didn't have for any other method ... and they decided that nothing met their criteria," says Barton.

According to the Park Service's Record of Decision on the deer management plan, those requirements are:

  • The drug must be federally approved.
  • The drug can be remotely injected.
  • The drug is effective for three to five years.
  • After treatment with the drug, the deer meat must still be safe for human consumption.
  • The drug must be proven effective on free-ranging deer.

The National Park Service says it will consider birth control in the future if the requirements are met.

Only one contraceptive drug is EPA-approved for white-tailed deer, but it's difficult to use," says Rob Gibbs with The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission Montgomery Parks.

"What I think a lot of people have in their mind for contraception is you put it in one of those dart guns that you see on all those outdoor TV shows and you dart the animal and it's taken care of. This drug can't be delivered that way," says Gibbs.

"You need to physically capture the deer and inject it by hand. You'll need to do that probably two years or three years later to that same deer over and over again. The cost of doing that is just prohibitive. It's not a tool that can be used in our park system right now," Gibbs says.

Contraceptives have been used to try to control deer populations with some success in places like Fire Island, New York and on the grounds of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.

Hunting in the city

The deer hunt in Rock Creek Park would involve highly trained sharpshooters using high powered rifles. They'd work mainly at night during fall and winter, when fewer people are in the park.

Although the hunt would be the first in Rock Creek Park, similar operations have been conducted for years in nearby places like Fairfax County, Va., and Montgomery County, Md.

Gibbs says in order to take part in operations like this and ensure everyone's safety, sharpshooters go through extensive training and testing and follow strict procedures.

"We have them pass certain shooting qualifications, so that we know that their guns are shooting properly, and we have certain directions that they should be pointing their weapons and that sort of thing. So we try to insure that they are getting the best shots that they can and that the deer are killed as quickly as possible," he says.

The National Park Service says sharpshooters in Rock Creek Park might occasionally work during the day. In "very limited" areas, such as near homes, and say bows and arrows may be used.

Bait will likely be used to attract deer to certain areas so they can be hunted more easily and safely, the National Park Service says. It says bullets will be fired toward the ground.

Despite these precautions, opponents are concerned.

"This park is used as Washington, D.C.'s backyard, and there is indeed a danger to people," says Carol Grunewald.

"I certainly would be terrified letting my children or my dogs or even cats out of the house. I wouldn't go out of the house if I knew an archer was hunting a deer very close to my house. I mean, this is frightening," Grunewald says.

National Park Service documents say if daytime hunting is needed in a specific area, that area will be closed to visitors, and the public will be notified in advance of park closings needed for deer hunting. There are also plans to have Park Police officers and other park employees patrol public areas to ensure visitors stay out.

Gibbs says he's not surprised some people are upset.

"People have legitimate concerns about safety. They may not be aware of all the different precautions that are taken to make sure that these are extremely safe hunts."

Editor's Note: This story has been modified to correct the location of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Deer Dilemma Part 1: A Rock Creek Park hunt on hold

Deer Dilemma Part 2: Living near Rock Creek Park

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