Arlington Co. recommends sharpshooters to reduce deer population in county parks

Arlington County staff is recommending professional sharpshooters be brought in to manage the deer population, since four-legged herbivores are putting trees and wildlife in county parks at risk.

The draft recommendations from the Department of Parks and Recreation come after a consultant report on white-tailed deer management recommendations in the county.

The effect of deer browsing — which is described as deer eating leaves, twigs and woody plants — was determined to be currently “moderate” in Arlington County, but does “not bode well for the future forest health of Arlington’s parks,” according to the consultant report by White Buffalo, Inc.

Under the recommendations, sharpshooters would shoot down from elevated stands in county parks, at night, using silencers and non-lead bullets, to reduce noise and impact on vegetation. The goal would be to cull the county’s deer population by between 100-125.

Throughout the process of considering a deer management plan, the sharpshooter method has been opposed by the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which has recommended surgical sterilization of female deer.

However, the county has said, in a previous presentation, that, “Surgical sterilization is considered experimental by the Virginia State Department of Wildlife Resources, has a delayed benefit and higher cost compared to professional sharpshooting, and lacks evidence that it could reduce the deer population sufficiently enough to promote forest health.”

The consultant report considered deer management strategies being used in surrounding jurisdictions, including Rock Creek Park and other national parks in D.C., as well as Virginia and Maryland.

Some larger jurisdictions permit deer hunting, but the consultant and the county have determined that option impractical, given the narrow confines of Arlington’s parks in well-populated neighborhoods.

In its opposition, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington has said, “A mortally wounded deer can still live on adrenaline for many seconds and cover hundreds of yards. It will not be uncommon for residents to find evidence of dead deer in their backyard.”

The county is soliciting feedback on its recommendations through July 19. Final recommendations are expected later this summer.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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