Editor’s note: This is the second installment of “Deer Dilemma,” a WTOP series about the controversial deer hunt planned for Rock Creek Park.
WASHINGTON – Plans for a controversial deer hunt in Rock Creek Park have been put on hold for now as parties on both sides wait for the outcome of a federal lawsuit filed by the hunt’s opponents.
The hunt, the first since the park’s 1890 founding, aims to thin the herd throughout the next several years.
For residents living near Rock Creek Park, opinions are divided on whether or not the hunt should occur. Some say their plants and gardens have been destroyed by hungry deer.
“I remember my neighbor across the street would call saying, ‘The deer are eating your caladiums,’ and we used to have impatiens,” says Linda Crichlow White. “It’s like deer food. It was their breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
She and her husband Eric live off 16th Street Northwest on a street that dead-ends at the park.
They say problems with deer on their property peaked around 2006 and 2007, and they’ve since replaced their plants with more deer resistant ones.
WTOP’s Garden Editor Mike McGrath says deer have big appetites.
“Each deer eats about 6 pounds of vegetation a day. When that isn’t your azeleas, rhododendrons and arbor vitae, it tends to be native plants,” he says. “Some of the issues that people may not think about when they’re protecting the deer is they are a bigger threat to native plants surviving the next couple of decades than human habitation and exploitation and development.”
White and her husband raised the fence in their backyard from about 4 feet to 6 feet to try to keep deer out, but McGrath says that’s just not high enough.
“There are only two guaranteed ways to keep deer off your property,” he says. “One is to have a fence around your entire property that is 11 inches taller than Shaquille O’Neal, and that includes the driveway.”
“The only other thing that works even close to an 8-foot-tall fence is having a dog outside much of the time, on one of those invisible fencing systems,” he adds.
A few years ago, a fawn got stuck in a window well on the side of the Whites’ house. Eric created a ramp so the fawn could climb out.
But, despite the encounter, they think of the deer as a nuisance.
“If people wanted deer to roam around their lawns and what have you, they would live in a rural area,” Linda says. “I guess there are some people in the city who think they’re kind of cute.”
She says something needs to be done.
“The deer are a health problem, they bring more ticks, they cause car accidents, they definitely eat our vegetation,” she says.
Welcome back anytime
“We know that many people go to Rock Creek Park and delight in seeing the wild creatures of the forest,” says deer kill opponent Carol Grunewald. “Whether they be red fox or pileated woodpeckers or deer, people love to see these animals, they’re attached to them, they want to protect them, no one wants these deer killed. They don’t need to be killed.
Anne Barton, who like Grunewald lives near the intersection of Military Road and Nebraska Avenue in Northwest, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit to stop the hunt.
In 2004, Barton and her husband had a doe living in their backyard.
“She gave birth to her single baby that year in our yard, and they stayed there for a number of weeks,” she says. “She would go every day — and I understand this is typical — she would go off and feed herself at various places, she’d go back to the park.”
“She’d cross Military Road and give me a heart attack, but the baby stayed here very still,” Barton says. “He never stood up or anything, except when his mother was there. So I took a lot of photos of them, and recently I painted a few pictures.”
Barton admits the deer devoured many of her plants, but says she’d welcome them back anytime.
Some of Barton’s neighbors even named the deer. Daisy was the mother and the fawn was Bambi.