Michelle Basch, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - The National Park Service is offering more details about the controlled deer hunt this week in Rock Creek Park.
"We have to cull the herd of the deer because they've become so overabundant that they are keeping the forest in Rock Creek Park from regenerating," says Carol Johnson with the NPS.
Highly trained U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters are doing the hunting between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. through early Saturday morning.
"Sharpshooters from the USDA have been doing this for years, and they have an incredible record of safety and effectiveness," says Johnson.
Temporary road closings in some parts of the park will continue during the hunt.
"We close an area not just in the area that the operation is taking place, but also the area around it," Johnson says. "So we have a safety buffer."
Some people are surprised by the timing of the hunt. The park service has said all along that hunting would happen during winter months when deer are easier to spot in the forest and there are fewer visitors in the park.
"Although this is by the calendar year spring, this is the end of the winter season for the deer," says Johnson, who adds that the park service wanted to finish the operation before the end of March.
"I know that people are very concerned - there is a number of people out there who feel like this is the wrong thing to do," she says. "The decisions we made are based completely in science."
She adds that "this is not a decision that the National Park Service makes lightly."
"It's something that we take very very seriously,," she says. "We are trying to do in the best most efficacious way and a way which follows the scientific data."
The park service will not release the number of deer shot in the park until hunting ends Saturday.
After this weekend, there will be no more hunting in the park until fall at the earliest.
Johnson says the deer meat will be donated to the hungry through a number of different charitable organizations.
Opponents of the hunt say they will hold protest rallies at the intersection of Military Road and Oregon Avenue every day that the hunt continues.
"The National Park Service had a much better option on the table, and could have used fertility control to manage the deer population rather than a wasteful killing program during the spring birthing season," says Stephanie Boyles Griffin with The Humane Society of the United States in a statement.
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