As the urban deer population grows, cities like Rockville are grappling with ways to cohabitate with the four-legged creature.
One suggestion by the city’s White-Tailed Deer Task Force — a managed hunt — is generating alarm by some residents and elected officials.
But a managed deer hunt is only an option at this time.
“If people are thinking we’ve planned a hunt, we have not,” said Steve Mader, superintendent of parks and facilities for the City of Rockville. “It’s an option that’s available to us, which wasn’t before.”
The 16-person task force, including residents and representatives from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Humane Society of the United States, recommended the City Council change a city ordinance to allow for a managed hunt if the deer population is large enough, Mader said.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said 25 to 35 deer per square mile is reasonable. When the city took aerial surveys to count deer in 1996, numbers ranged from 50 to more than 100 deer per square mile, Mader said.
But the city has not taken a count since, and the task force was not comfortable recommending a hunt without new data, Mader said.
“The actions that we take each year would be based on aerial surveys,” he said. “This year, if it happened to be that the deer population doesn’t happen to be high at all, chances are we wouldn’t have a hunt.”
An aerial survey will cost between $6,000 and $7,000.
For people like Maggie Brasted, director of urban wildlife education and research for the Humane Society of the United States and a participant in the White-Tailed Deer Task Force, numbers should not determine whether to hold a hunt.
“It’s not the total number of deer,” she said. “It’s the conflicts. It’s more about that there’s a conflict between people and animals trying to use the same space.”
And even then, people should adapt to the situation rather than expecting the world to adapt to them, Brasted said.
Common conflicts between people and deer include deer eating landscaping or crops and vehicle crashes.
In the past two to three years, more than 30 deer incidents were reported to the Rockville City Police Department on a section of West Gude Drive in Rockville, Mader said. Deer incidents can include a deer carcass found on the road or a car crash involving a deer. Vehicular accidents involving deer tend to increase in the fall, when the animals are more active, Mader said.
People can avoid many of those accidents if the city installs fencing along high-traffic areas to reroute deer to cross at safer locations, Brasted said. And growing vegetation that deer find less attractive to consume or putting up fencing can save gardens without taking the life of an animal, Brasted said.
Injectable contraceptions also prove a solution for controlling rising deer populations, she said.
“I’m not entirely sure that [hunts] are necessary, that issues with deer are such a conflict that it requires killing deer,” Brasted said. “When you don’t need to kill them, it’s not humane to kill them.”
Opening up the city to hunting season is not the plan, Mader said. If city officials decide a hunt is necessary, they would likely hire a professional firm to handle the task.
Managed hunts to control deer populations are not new to Montgomery County. The county has held managed hunts in parks since 1996, said Bill Hamilton, principal natural resource specialist with the Department of Parks. The program began in two county parks and one state park, and has since expanded to five county parks.
Managed hunts resulted from community complaints of vehicle accidents and damage to crops and landscaping in the early 1990s, Hamilton said. A county-wide task force researched the deer populations, resulting in controlled hunts as a method to reduce the number of deer in the county.
The parks department uses infrared technology to determine when a hunt is necessary, Hamilton said.
“Generally, it’s accepted that once a deer management program is put in place, it’s going to be an ongoing program,” he said.
Managed hunts run on a lottery system. Licensed hunters must meet safety standards to land a $25 spot on a roster. Parks officials select names during the fall and winter hunting seasons, and hunters pay $15 for each hunting opportunity.
There are 325 hunters are listed on the roster. The hunts are supervised by parks staff.
The county also holds less structured hunts in five rural parks for hunters who meet even more rigorous safety standards, Hamilton said. And Maryland-National Capital Park Police use sharpshooting to manage the population at night, from January through March, in 11 parks.
Still, comments from Rockville residents appear to be split about whether to hunt deer.
For Carol McCormick, hunting is not the best way to deal with the population.
“Because we caused this urban sprawl, we have to deal with the consequences and learn how to deal in the 21st century with deer management by also respecting the lives of the deer,” McCormick said.
But for others, like Roald Schrack, a lethal deer control program means a sustained environment and safer roads.
“Please expedite this control program,” Schrack wrote to the task force.