WASHINGTON – Those living in the region have likely been involved in a deer-car crash or know someone who has.
As WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath puts it: “Deer are really bad at crossing the road.”
Eric White used to have regular, frustrating encounters with deer as he drove home from work.
“There were four or five deer that were strolling up and down the street when I would come home at night,” he says.
White, who lives off 16th Street NW near Rock Creek Park, says the deer he used to see a few years ago wouldn’t move out of his car’s way no matter what he tried.
The first deer struck and killed by a car in Rock Creek Park was reported in 1989. Since then, the National Park Service says the deer population has grown.
Neighboring Montgomery County in Maryland counts about 2,000 deer-car crashes every year, and Rob Gibbs with the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission-Montgomery Parks says that number would be higher if it wasn’t for controlled hunts.
“We see a lot of injured deer, so sometimes when they’re hit they’re killed, sometimes they’re just injured and they go off and die from their injuries, maybe a slow unpleasant death,” says Gibbs.
“For the first seven years that we were doing managed hunts in our first three parks, we monitored the deer-vehicle collisions right around those parks, and we saw anywhere from a 60 to a 90 percent reduction in deer-vehicle collisions in the roads right around the perimeters of those parks,” he adds. “So as the deer population came down we most definitely saw a reduction in deer-vehicle collisions and that was our No. 1 concern.”
According to the Insurance Information Institute, most deer-car crashes happen during the months of October, November and December.
If someone sees a deer in their path while driving, the institute suggests braking firmly but staying in the current lane, because swerving could cause an even more serious crash.
Fear of the aftermath
Those who are fighting the plan to shoot deer in Rock Creek Park are concerned about what they might see during and after the hunt.
“We are very afraid that when the hunting and killing of these animals begins, we will have a mass exodus of deer from the park, we will have deer (rampage) through our neighborhoods and we will also have wounded and dying deer on our streets and in our backyards,” says deer hunt opponent Carol Grunewald.
“This is not something we feel we should be paying for as taxpayers, this is not something we want to witness, this is not something we want our children to see. And even if we don’t see it, we will know that it’s happening in this park. It will ruin the tranquility and serenity of this jewel in the national park system.”
Controlled deer hunts have been going on in many Montgomery County parks this winter.
Recently, an injured deer was seen in a park in the Wheaton area. The group In Defense of Animals says it looked like the deer had been shot, but the animal was never captured to find out if that was indeed the case.
“I’m not aware that we’ve ever had any deer from any of our operations wander out of the park injured,” says Gibbs.
He says deer that are killed are removed from the parks. The meat is then donated to local food banks. Gibbs says over the years in Montgomery County, 176,000 pounds of meat has been donated to the hungry.
The National Park Service says if the hunt in Rock Creek Park happens, officials plan to donate as much deer meat as possible to the needy.