Park Police are set to begin thinning the deer herd in Rock Creek Stream Valley Park in Chevy Chase this month, the latest site added to Montgomery County’s program to reduce the deer population.
The 277-acre park has at least three times as many deer as an area of that size should have, according to information from the Montgomery County Department of Parks.
The increasing deer population leads to deer-related car accidents, damage to natural resources and increased potential for Lyme disease, according to the Parks Department.
The park is closed to the public from 5:30 p.m. until sunrise each night through March 31 to allow Park Police sharpshooters to lethally remove deer from the park.
Ryan Butler, senior natural resources specialist for the Parks Department, said the department began receiving complaints from the public about damage done by deer in the area about 10 years ago.
“That public complaint has only increased,” he said.
The Parks Department has also seen ecological damage from an overabundance of deer, Butler said. Camera surveys showed the park has about 40 to 50 deer in a half-square-mile area.
“That is far and beyond what is acceptable in most ecological circles as far as what a forest can sustain,” Butler said.
Generally, ecologists consider 15 deer per square mile sustainable, he said. The Parks Department hopes to get the density of deer in Rock Creek Stream Valley Park down to 15 to 30 per square mile.
Butler said field operations are scheduled to begin in the Chevy Chase park sometime this month.
“We operate with sharpshooting in areas that are more urban than is typically acceptable for hunting,” Butler said.
State law prohibits hunting within 150 yards of an occupied building or camp without permission of the owner or occupant.
“When you’re in an area where the gaps [between buildings] are very small, I guess you could say, it’s just a lot more efficient and effective to use sharpshooters,” he said.
The sharpshooting program began in 1999 at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Butler said. After a one-year gap, the program resumed in 2001 and has grown since then.
In Chevy Chase, the deer management area in Rock Creek Stream Valley Park runs along Rock Creek between East-West Highway and Interstate 495.
The Council of the Village of North Chevy Chase enthusiastically supported implementing the program, Village Manager Bob Weesner said in an email.
“There has been too much damage done by deer within the village, not to mention the hazard to motorists,” he said. “We have even had dog owners whose dogs broke free, chased the deer and never returned.”
Park Police are conducting deer sharpshooting at about a dozen other parks in Montgomery County, including the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Needwood Golf Course in Rockville, Northwest Branch Recreation Park in Aspen Hill, Wheaton Regional Park and other locations around Rock Creek. Hunters can also join a lottery to participate in managed hunts in more rural parks.
The deer from Park Police hunts are processed and donated to the Capital Area Food Bank, Butler said.
Montgomery County is not the only jurisdiction facing a rising deer population in close proximity to urban development. In 2011, Rockville’s White-Tailed Deer Task Force floated the idea of a managed hunt as one way to reduce human-deer conflicts.
Rockville eventually adopted a deer management plan that recommends fencing, deer-crossing signs and other nonlethal methods to deter and avoid deer. The city’s Mayor and Council voted in 2012 to conduct an aerial survey of the deer population.
The Montgomery County Department of Parks plans to use sharpshooters to reduce the deer population in Rock Creek Stream Valley Park each year, Butler said. The Park Police might eventually reduce the population enough to take some time off from hunting, but any break would likely only be temporary, he said.
Park Police hunts generally take place January through March. Lottery-based, managed hunts took place this year in late October through January.
Learn more about the Parks Department’s deer management program at parksdeermanagement.org.