WASHINGTON – You probably don’t think of deer hunting when you think of Chevy Chase, Md.
But within weeks, police sharpshooters will take aim in Rock Creek Stream Valley Park in what’s described as a “humane hunt” to cull an overcrowded herd of deer.
February will bring the first hunt in the park land between East-West Highway and the Capital Beltway on a few selected nights. Members of the Maryland National Capital Park Police will participate.
“We follow guidelines established by the American Medical Veterinary Association for the humane euthanasia of animals,” says Bill Hamilton, a natural resources specialist and the head of wildlife ecology for the Montgomery County Parks Department.
Hamilton says the deer will be taken down with shots to the head, which he says averts any suffering by the animal.
“The effect is … an animal never knows what has happened,” Hamilton says.
The park’s neighbors asked the county to reduce the deer population in the 277-acre segment known as Rock Creek Stream Valley Park Unit 2, which connects with Rock Creek Park.
“We’ve had a considerable amount of community complaint at this site, to be frank. Citizens feel somewhat besieged by the impacts they are feeling from deer,” Hamilton says.
There have been complaints about vehicle accidents involving deer and concerns regarding Lyme disease carried by ticks borne by deer.
Surveys indicate there are 40 to 50 deer in the area, three times as many as what’s considered best for its size.
“We would like to begin by reducing that number by half,” Hamilton says.
The ultimate goal is to have 15 to 30 deer per square mile.
But some members of the community have raised concerns over the humanity of the hunt, especially because some of the doe are in the early stages of pregnancy in February and March.
“There really is no increased trauma to these animals,” Hamilton says about pregnant doe.
“We do our best as an agency to make sure these animals are euthanized in a humane manner,” Hamilton says.
While some individuals who oppose deer culling regard any harm to wild creatures as cruel, Hamilton says, “We think that we’re doing something which is responsible for the community and necessary.”
There are 32 parks in Montgomery County under deer management, and Hamilton says trained police sharpshooters are scheduled to conduct hunts in 19 of them.
A dozen other parks conduct managed shotgun hunting programs to keep deer herds in check. One additional park is opened to public hunting managed by the state of Maryland.
Venison from the Rock Creek hunt will be donated to the Capital Area Food Bank.