NPS shares culling plan for deer in the DC area

D.C.-area deer population growth has led to increased concern for native vegetation and trees. Now the National Park Service is sharing plans to cull deer numbers in the coming months.

“Within forests, deer can significantly reduce forest regeneration by damaging and eating tree seedlings and saplings,” NPS Spokesman Sean McGinty said. “Over time, this can degrade forests and the habitat they provide for other animals and plants.”

In a 2021 environmental assessment, NPS gathered data from two years prior on deer populations in Fort Dupont, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens and Anacostia Park. The data showed an average of nearly 200 deer per night and nearly 175 animals per square mile.

NPS said the goal is to reduce density to between 15 to 20 deer per square mile, though it would take “approximately five to 10 years.”

The main problem, McGinty told WTOP, is a lack of predators to naturally control the deer population.

“What’s happening is they’re not facing any real predation,” he said, stressing that officials are seeking out other options.

The main goal is to find the right balance between the amount of deer and their habitat.

“What we’re going to do is reduce the level to where they can exist in harmony, where we can have the flourishing of the deer population and the flourishing of our native trees,” he said.

One of the ideas mentioned that officials say will not be considered includes adding wolves or bears to the areas as natural predators. The department said the potential problems far out way any benefits.

McGinty pointed out that “there’s not enough wilderness for a black bear to live a happy, healthy life out here. It would be cruel and unusual.”

The Deer Management Program has not yet begun, but McGinty said the most effective method is a lethal one.

Trained marksmen and biologists will work together to ensure the area’s deer population is safely reduced. McGinty said the goal is to make sure these efforts do not interfere with existing deer hunting licenses or present any danger to people visiting parks.

The meat collected from culling the deer population will be donated to local food pantries.

Inspecting collected meat is an NPS priority, especially after researchers recently found positive results for SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in park deer population.

“After testing the deer meat to make sure it is safe, we will be donating it,” McGinty said. “We’ll be working with kitchens to make sure it’s available to people in need.”

WTOP’s Valerie Bonk, Joshua Barlow and Ken Duffy contributed to this report.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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