Thu, Feb 16, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Snipers to cull deer in Washington

KILLING BAMBI:Washington authorities could decide this week to shoot more than 300 deer, which rangers say are threatening to eat a park’s forest into oblivion

The Guardian, Washington

It is not exactly a comforting scenario: government sharpshooters deployed in the dead of night in a favorite Washington park for the express purpose of slaughtering hundreds of white-tailed deer.

However, 70 years after the release of Walt Disney’s film Bambi, Americans aren’t feeling nearly as sentimental about deer.

In cities up and down the Atlantic coast, it is more like a war on white-tails.

So, too, in the US capital. The authorities managing Washington DC’s Rock Creek park could decide this week to activate a deer management plan that calls for killing 80 percent of the deer, or more than 300 of the animals in the area, over a two to three-year period.

The 1,100 hectare park, one of the biggest urban green spaces in the country, divides the city, -between the white, affluent areas to the west and more diverse and African-American neighborhoods to the east.

It is heavily used, with 2 million visitors a year taking advantage of running trails, tennis courts and riding stables.

During the week, another 12 million people a year use Rock Creek to commute from the center to the suburbs in nearby Maryland.

Under the plan, the national park service, which runs Rock Creek, would deploy snipers from the US Department of Agriculture to cull most of the deer population.

Meat from the deer would be given to food banks and homeless shelters.

Without such extreme steps, experts say the forest would be eaten into oblivion within years.

There are 80 deer per 260 hectares of park; new vegetation growth does not have a chance. The park is also experiencing severe erosion with the lack of regrowth.

The animals are viewed as a nuisance by gardeners in the sprawling homes overlooking the park, as well as by motorists.

Though the park service would also use non-lethal methods, such as sterilization, and fencing to keep deer from new growth, an analysis released last month found those methods would not be fast-acting enough to save the forests.

“The deer are grazing on all our new regrowth. The forest can’t regenerate,” chief ranger Nick Bartolomeo said.

The plan would reduce the deer population to 15 or 20 animals per 260 hectares.

Critics of the plan accuse the park service of going in for the kill without adequately exploring non-lethal methods of population control.

They also argue that those deer that survive the cull could well experience a boom in fertility.

Authorities have used sharpshooters to kill deer in areas adjoining Washington.

However, a heavily visited park in the heart of the city is an entirely different matter.

The plan released last month gives an indication of some of the difficulties.

How will runners or cyclists react if they come across a wounded deer?

How will homeowners near the park respond to gunfire?

“Visitors could be adversely affected by deer euthanized in certain circumstances,” the plan warns.

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