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Council Talks Deer Management, Chevy Chase Program Deemed A Success

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 2/28/2013, 11:45am  ET

Montgomery County’s Deer Management Program has allowed for the killing of more than 5,500 deer in each of the last several hunting seasons, yet the number of reported deer-vehicle collisions and probable cases of Lyme disease have remained steady.

In a meeting of the County Council’s Public Safety Committee on Thursday morning, Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner and government officials discussed potential steps to curbing the number of incidents typically associated with a large deer population.

Much of the discussion revolved around legislation in the General Assembly that would allow bow hunters to hunt up to 50 yards from homes instead of the current 150-yard regulation. Rob Gibbs, who runs the county’s deer management program with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said that legislation wouldn’t effect his program much. Park and Planning uses Park Police sharpshooters.

Those sharpshooters recently finished a deer kill in a Chevy Chase section of Rock Creek Park in which Gibbs said they killed 30 deer. Montgomery Parks estimated the deer population in the area was three times the recommended density, which it said led to damage to natural resources, deer-related car accidents and the increased potential of Lyme disease.

“The program in Rock Creek went like clockwork,” Gibbs said. “We’re very pleased with how well it went, particularly the interaction with the public. We didn’t receive any calls.”

County data shows the deer management program racked up 5,598 deer kills during the 2012-2013 seasons, 5,571 in 2011-2012, 5,969 in 2010-2011 and 5,599 in 2009-2010.

Despite those totals, the number of reported deer-vehicle collisions hasn’t shown many signs of a long-term decrease. There were 2,019 reported deer-related vehicle accidents in the county in 2012 and 2,038 in 2011. The annual number has not dipped below the 1,841 accidents since 2000 and in six of those years, the number exceeded 2,000 accidents.

In the case of Lyme disease, which some dispute is related to deer overpopulation, the numbers have also remained steady. There were 297 confirmed and probably cases of Lyme disease in the county in 2011 and 296 in 2010, the two most recent years that those statistics were available.

Gibbs said a manageable number of deer is 18 to 30 per square mile, though 40 to 50 per square mile would be a major improvement for the county. When the county started the program in 1995, Gibbs said some of the county’s parks had 200 deer per square mile.

In November, Berliner said he asked Maryland’s congressional leaders to help the U.S. Park Service find funding for an Environmental Impact Study that would allow it to pursue a managed deer hunt in C&O Canal Park.

On Thursday, Berliner said that has been “a difficult uphill battle,” because of the cost of the Study. He suggested a cheaper assessment.

“I lived off the C&O Canal. You’d see deer every day and you’d see them in the road,” Berliner said. “For that part of our downcounty area, that park is a refuge for deer.”

Andrews indicated interest in adding another park area to the deer management program in the upcoming budget. The Chevy Chase Rock Creek program was added last year. Gibbs pointed to a park in east county, but also said Cabin John is another potential area.

Flickr photo by John Dylan O’Leary