Montgomery deer-culling draws ire of animal rights group -- Gazette.Net


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An animal rights group is circulating an online petition asking Park Police to stop deer culling in Montgomery County.

The petition, titled “Tell Montgomery County Park Police to stop wounding and killing resident deer,” had received 623 signatures on Change.org as of March 5. The petition includes a photo of the deer, which is graphic.

The petition, posted by In Defense of Animals, says a man walking near Brookside Gardens in Wheaton found a deer that had been shot in the face, but was still living. The petition says the deer’s wound was “from a gun most likely used by Montgomery County Police sharpshooters.”

Anja Heister, director of IDA’s Wild and Free habitats campaign, said the man who found the deer sent photos of it to an attorney representing IDA and a group of Washington, D.C., residents in a lawsuit over proposed deer-culling operations in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

“We were so appalled, we were so shocked, looking at the photos,” Heister said. “... It’s not an isolated incident.”

Rob Gibbs, natural resources manager for Montgomery Parks, disagreed.

“The accusation that this is something that’s happening out there on a daily basis ... is certainly not the case,” he said.

Although he gets many calls about deer injured by cars or tangled up in nets or swing sets, Gibbs said he is not aware of any other time that someone found an injured deer and thought its injuries were from the Park Police sharpshooting program.

From looking at a photo posted with the online petition, Gibbs said he cannot tell what kind of bullet caused the injuries and whether it is the same type of ammunition the sharpshooters use.

“They were just speculating that it was [from sharpshooters], and there’s really no way to tell,” Gibbs said.

The petition said the wound was caused by a small-caliber exploding bullet, but Gibbs said Park Police do not use exploding bullets.

The man who found the injured deer called Park Police, who went to look for the deer but have not been able to find it, Gibbs said.

Park Police sharpshooters cull deer in Montgomery parks with an overabundance of deer that are too close to buildings to allow hunting. The Park Police sharpshooting program began at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton in 1999. Other parks have been added to the program since then.

The Parks Department also closes some larger parks on certain dates to allow lottery-based managed hunts.

In February, sharpshooters began thinning the deer herd in Rock Creek Stream Valley Park in Chevy Chase due to complaints from the public about damage done by deer in the area. An increasing deer population leads to more deer-related car accidents, damage to natural resources and potential for Lyme disease, according to the Parks Department.

As an alternative to culling, Heister said, the county should use some form of deer contraception. A 2004 report from the Montgomery County Deer Management Work Group said deer contraception has been successful with captive deer, but techniques for free-ranging deer herds are costly, complicated and still in the research and experimental stages.

The IDA petition mentions injuries to deer caused by other types of hunting, but focuses its attention on the county’s deer-culling program, saying that “unsuspecting and innocent deer are being shot by snipers in a war-like scenario.”

Gibbs said the Park Police sharpshooters miss their targets less than 1 percent of the time.

“Whenever there is one, they make a great effort to try to find the animal or to see if it’s injured,” he said. “Unfortunately, it sounds like this petition is out there making the accusation that this is a regular thing. ... They don’t know anything about our program or the people who are involved in that.”

Gibbs said Park Police were doing sharpshooting in the Wheaton area a couple of weeks ago, but there is no way to determine whether they injured this particular deer.

“It’s not entirely out of the question that this was an injury as a result of that, but we have no way of knowing,” he said.

Heister said the man who found the deer did not want his name or contact information provided to news agencies.

ewaibel@gazette.net