I'm sitting at my desk, talking on the phone and looking out of the window. The large, pretty deer in the driveway is unimpressed by first a car, then a man with a dog who are passing by. It barely looks up. My weed-ridden lawn must be yummy, although I'm sure it's not the weeds the animal targets.
After we moved from a more urban DC neighborhood out to Rock Creek Forest on the District line, the first thing our kids got excited about was the daily deer in our yard. Visitors from the woods elegantly leaped over the fence and started munching on their favorite greens, no matter if someone was watching or not. They let us come shockingly close.
As we have long learned now, there are downsides to the spectacle. My hostas bloom for only a day, several other plants regularly get chewed down to the ground. At least twice, my car’s bumper got within inches of a deer that had popped out of nowhere. (About 2,000 actual “deer-vehicle collisions” are reported in the county each year.) Last summer, I caught Lyme disease from a deer tick; luckily, it was diagnosed early.
Almost worse, the forest suffers from the Bambi boom as well. Montgomery Parks Senior Natural Resources Specialist Roy Butler told me that there are about 200 deer per square mile of parkland in the county (they measure this from airplanes, with nifty infrared cameras). The ecological optimum for forest health, however, is 10-20 deer per square mile!
Everywhere, forest understory and groundcovers—the park’s future--have been hurt by the tremendous growth of the deer population. That’s why since the 1990s, regular deer management plans have been developed by the Park Service.
Presently, “management” mainly means reducing the deer by a certain number each winter. In the larger parks, controlled hunts are conducted on designated dates (you can apply if you have a license). In stretches closer to residential areas, such as our Rock Creek Valley, Park Police sharpshooters will do the job. The “harvested” animals (845 last year) are donated to food banks.
For the future, we can expect friendlier methods. The biggest deer birth control experiments (with hormone injections) in the US are conducted right here in Montgomery County: in Wheaton and Gaithersburg. Ironically, it’s us, the people, or better, the good greens in our suburban yards that caused the deer to super-breed in the first place. But, who wants tall nets in their front yard…
(Photo courtesy of Roy Butler, MCPS)