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The Debate on Dealing with Deer in DC

by Prince Of Petworth February 7, 2013 at 11:00 am 86 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

The following has been circulating on all the neighborhood listservs:

I am proud to be one of five local plaintiffs in a lawsuit opposing the National Park Service’s barbaric plan to kill deer in Rock Creek Park. The plan is on hold until the lawsuit is heard in court. Please see the email below and voice your support for our work by signing our petition at the link provided below.

You can stay up-to-date on the latest developments by joining us on Facebook and Twitter.

1) An excellent opinion piece promoting contraception for the Rock Creek Park deer was published in the Feb. 3, 2013 edition of The Washington Post by two eminent scientists in the field of wildlife population control. It can be read here:

2) A petition asking the National Park Service to use only non-lethal methods, including contraception, to control the deer population in Rock Creek National Park has been posted on Change.Org

We hope you will sign it and forward it on to others in the area, across the country, and around the world.

You can also type in a message as to why you support the petition. You’re not required to leave a comment, however.

The petition is written for:

– those who think that humans should strive to live in peaceful co-existence with the beautiful wildlife in our midst.

– those who think that the future of wildlife population control is the use of fertility-control agents — not death and destruction without end.

– those who oppose the National Park Service’s plan to terrorize and brutalize our wonderful Rock Creek Park deer.

Ignoring federal law and its own rules — and for the first time in the 123-year history of the park — the National Park Service has ordered the killing of animals who live in Rock Creek Park. The Park Service plans to kill half of the park’s 314 deer in the first year of a multi-year killing program.

These gentle animals, who have never before been harassed or hunted, will be shot with bullets and arrows after being lured to piles of grain, apples, and hay; others will be killed after capturing them with nets and shooting them in the head with penetrating captive-bolt guns, or by being bled to death.

To those who think this is wrong — we hope you will sign the petition.

On the Takoma listserv one resident left the following response:

How do you feel about the idea deer having to wander further afield in search of food and get hit by cars?

Or slowly starve to death as they continue to wipe out all the foliage in Rock Creek Park due to their over-population?

What are you proposing to do about that? Contraception for the deer is a great idea for long-term over-population, but it doesn’t solve the problem of the deer — which are NOT native to the area — which are already there and causing problems to both the park and the surrounding neighborhoods.

  • ClevelandDave

    Do it in the way that is least likely to cause harm to humans and pain to the animals that is reasonably cost effective. It that is bow and arrow, shooting, poisoning or tranquilizing them and then giving them something that prevents them from reproducing, so be it.

  • Jay

    Oh come on, we all saw bambi. But these pests are incredibly deadly to humans and need to be dealt with. Don’t obstruct the National Park Service as they attempt to save lives.

  • manimal

    i like the contraceptive plan.

  • Ward One Resident

    Good lord the hyperbole of this debate reminds me of the whole Klingle Road debate (and I’m sure some of the same parties are involved). No one wants to see Bambi (or his mother) killed, but whether it’s the NPS or cars, they are dying (and on occasion causing serious injury to people too) and something needs to be done. Contraception alone isn’t going to solve the problem.

  • Scott

    Wow, activists are so ridiculous. Can I have the venison please, preferably in bologna form? Or to be nice – donate it to a food kitchen.

    • manimal

      yeah! curse those people that think differently!

  • “-which are NOT native to the area -”

    What…? Do you mean White Tail / Virginia Deer that have lived for eons in the US and the Americas. Most assuredly NATIVE…

    With no hunters about of course the population will only grow. Natural predation keeps most wild groups undercontral.

    The animals need our helps – granted we created the mess.

    The least painful and quickest manner is best.

    • GM

      Actually, the deer in Rock Creek were imported from Arkansas after the original ones died out about 100 years ago.

  • manimal

    so the whole “Ignoring federal law and its own rules” means nothing to you?

    the advocacy of lawlessness is very disturbing.

    • Doesn’t bother me because quite frankly I am not willing to take OP’s word that NPS is actually “Ignoring federal law and its own rules”. I haven’t done the research (nor am I going to) but I would bet that it’s much more nuanced than that. Either way I think labeling it “advocacy of lawlessness” would probably be wildly inaccurate.

      • +1.

      • ohdeer

        I think the problem is that NPS prohibits both hunting on federal lands and bringing firearms into national parks. Depending on how the prohibition is worded (and I don’t know the details), they may or may not be breaking the law by hunting on their own lands (whatever the purpose) but the bow-hunting would certainly be allowed under the second. And bow-hunting is safer in heavily populated areas.

        • anonymous

          NPS is well within it’s legal rights to manage wildlife in the areas it manages, particularly if that wildlife is endangering human safety and damaging the natural values of the area. Of course natural predators would be ideal, but we’re unlikely to see them in significant numbers for a long time. The venison will go to local shelters, which seems like a pretty big win to me. Also, NPS allows hunting in many of its units and Congress has passed legislation telling parks to allow guns in national parks pursuant to applicable state and federal law.

        • Anonymous

          NPS prevents *the public* from hunting and bringing firearms onto their land. But preventing their own game wardens?

          • Anonymous

            Guns and hunting are allowed in many NPS units, though obviously not in Rock Creek as that wouldn’t be appropriate. Google it.

  • Better idea: Introduce natural deer predators. What RCP really needs are some coyotes, mountain lions, and wolves.

    • Anonymous

      Bring back the wolves to kill them the way nature intended, as the wolves start to feed while the deer is still alive. OR
      Let them starve due to overpopulation or get hit by cars, resulting in long, painful death. OR
      Kill them relatively quickly so the others have enough to forage, and give the venison to soup kitchens, etc.

    • Anonymous

      Or dogs with bees in their mouth and when they bark, they shoot bees at you.

  • Joe E.

    Herd them towards the Zoo, preferably to the big cats (remember that video of the fawn that dropped into the lion enclosure a few years back?).

    • Plus One


  • Chops

    The question isn’t whether or not we’ll kill deer. The question is how: bows & arrows, guns, or cars & buses? The idea that a city like DC can somehow have a pre-Colombian ecosystem is not realistic.

    Also, how does the author know that deer would prefer sterilization to death? What’s the utility function there? What evolutionary biology or creation story is the basis for that preference? I suspect it’s just that the author feels uncomfortable around nature, red in tooth and claw.

    • Anonymous

      I think we should kill them with drones.

  • halfsmoke

    I’ve seen BIG male deer run across Mass ave by Observatory…so they are a threat.
    My father has hit THREE deer on route 2 in Anne Arundel county, resulting in two totaled cars.
    So they need to be controlled.
    Word on the street is that they hate rubbers, so scratch that.

  • anon
  • Seriously – this person is promoting a peaceful coexistence with nature? Try not building a city…

    Contraception is the most unnatural thing I’ve ever heard of in dealing with deer. At least with hunting them and culling their numbers, we’re recreating what would normally happen with natural predators.

    Actually, I’m for peaceful coexistence between man, nature and the Catholic Church. So instead of stapling condoms to deer genitalia, I think we should just sit all the deer down and talk to them about the dangers of teenage pregnancy and sex outside of wedlock.

    Why don’t you just focus on neutering your cats and dogs.

  • lb

    I’m glad to see people spending so much time on this instead of, you know, working on the child poverty rate in DC or something stupid like that.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not a zero sum game.

      • ohdeer

        No, it’s not a zero-sum game. But the point that the commenter above was trying to make (I believe) is that people have limited time and energy to dedicate to causes. And the fact that the reproductive health of an animal that is, for all purposes, a pest take precedence (for these folks) over the fate of poor children is a little disturbing.

        • Anonymous

          But we don’t all have to choose the same causes. You might prefer to work on child poverty, these people might want to work to let the deer run rampant and destroy the ecosystem.

          I think the original letter is beyond ridiculous. But also ridiculous is lb’s notion (often voiced by many others in PoPville) that working on anything else (or g-d forbid, enjoying yourself) somehow reduces our success at solving world peace and hunger.

          • lb

            All I’m saying is kill the deer, save the children. I’m entitled to that much at least, aren’t I?

          • lb

            Oh and, full disclosure, my brother almost died in a car accident with a deer last week, so I’m not feeling as sympathetic as I normally might right now.

          • Minimal

            I’m sorry about you brother. I hope he recovers quickly

        • halfsmoke

          Then there is this from a listserve:


          Hope this weather isn’t keeping you inside, and you are ready to get out in the crisp and refreshing air this weekend! Join Rock Creek Conservancy volunteers to save park trees from the chokehold of English ivy and Periwinkle!

          • Manimal

            The scourge of periwinkle cannot be overstated!

  • Anonymous

    Hunt them and donate the meat to soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

  • Anonymous

    “These gentle animals, who have never before been harassed or hunted, will be shot with bullets and arrows after being lured to piles of grain, apples, and hay; others will be killed after capturing them with nets and shooting them in the head with penetrating captive-bolt guns, or by being bled to death.”


  • I’m not a deer, nor have I ever (at least that I can recall) been a deer.
    But I am guessing that if I had my choice I’d rather be shot and killed while eating an apple or hay than chased by wolves and eaten alive or smashed by an SUV.
    There are more deer in the US now than when Columbus arrived. Kill them and use the meat for the best benefit of taxpayers (school lunches, homeless shelters, food banks or sold to businesses with funds returned to treasury).

    • Anonymous

      If they served them in school lunches, animal rights people would probably protest to have the cafeterias shut down.

      • Yeah, but we’d be eating local.

  • I suppose selling a two-week hunting license is totally out of the question, huh?

    Keep what youi want, donate the rest to DC Central Kitchen, use the money from the licenses to fund your more preventative deer control methods.

    I would love to fill a freezer full of venison steaks and sausage.

    • yes

      Yes, it is out of the question in an urban park. I grew up in rural Illinois and every hunting season the inexperienced hunters would show up. They’d mistake farmer’s cows for deer and shoot them. They’d see movement and shoot into the woods, only to find it was their hunting buddy. Opening up RCP to anyone who buys a hunting license would inevitably end up with us hearing statements like, “I thought the jogger was a deer.”

    • I don’t think they’re going to allow it in RCP.

      Although, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia does yearly deer hunts/culls. You need a permit, and I believe it’s bow-and-arrow hunting only. They used to hire sharpshooters, but then they opened it up to permit-holders. However, Fairmount Park is not a national park.

  • Anonymous

    Save the forest – kill the overpopulated deer

  • Our society clearly accepts hunting as a reasonable activity so if that can be done safely I have no problem with it. I think “safely” is the big catch given that Rock Creek is in the middle of the city.

    Contraception is a great idea, but how expensive? Having half the deer on contraception and half not won’t help. How would this even be done?

    I agree something needs to be done about the deer population, both for safety (cars), not allowing animals to procreate until they are starving/diseased, and also to not totally destroy/alter forest ecology (not just Rock Creek but the whole eastern US).

    Anyway, no easy answers. We used to debate this stuff all the time in my conservation biology courses…no clear solutions. The OP could strengthen their petition greatly if they could offer some evidence that contraception would be logistically realistic and affordable. I suspect it’s not and that’s why the “multi-year killing program was developed” (I suspect that’s not the official name at NPS!)

  • Deer are native to the area, but the problem with deer throughout the East coast is that they no longer have natural predators around, so their population goes unchecked. While I’m not for bloodletting – that sounds a little far-fetched – I think we need to be honest about someone stepping up to fill the role of predator. It’s how nature works. I am an almost-vegetarian, but the one meat I will eat is venison. I grew up hunting with the understanding that it’s ecological management, in addition to sustenance. Deer are overpopulated, adn that means they destroy vegetation and once that runs out, they die slowly of starvation. Not to mention the deer who get hit on the roads. Those who claim to care about these deer are looking at nature with blinders on – what about the birds who feed on the seeds of plants that aren’t there when the deer destroy them? What about the whole ecosystem of Rock Creek Park? The Park Service is there for the ecosystem, and for the public enjoyment of that ecosystem – they are not there to save charismatic megafauna.

  • rd

    the op is an idiot. they are deer! shoot them!

    • Anonymous

      It’s so disturbing how quick people are to insult others.

      • Anonymous

        not as disturbing as that diatribe in the original post

        • Anonymous

          Has calling someone an idiot really worked for you as a civilized conversational tool?

          • Funny!

            Three Nons insulting each other for being rude and insulting each other all under cover…. oooohhhhhh…

  • caballero

    I have hit deer with my car on two occasions, in other parts of the country. They can be a serious hazard.

  • While I like the idea that an individual citizen can sue the government to force them into making better policy decisions, crap like this is such a hassle that the park service (and other agencies) cannot effectively do their job. This is an enormous burden on taxpayers, and total bullshit!
    1) Deer overpopulation is a problem. Not only does deer overbrowsing mess up the forest (many wildflower species are endangered because of this), the removal of low-lying vegetation impacts some species of birds that nest in these locations. So, by “saving the deer” you are in fact hurting other species. Given that deer population densities are around 2-20 times greater (depending on the area) than they were before European settlers removed predators, it is good policy to remove the problem (too many deer).
    2) Deer contraception is not a proven method. Despite the Washington Post op-ed stating otherwise, deer contraception is not widely used, despite many, many attempts to make it work. While the authors own study finds that their contraception method is somewhat effective, the time scale over which their methods were used (5 years), is too slow to prevent immediate damage to the RCP forest, cars, etc… I assume that ithe cost is also much higher, but I dunno. If deer contraception was such a great option, it would be used in more areas. Could it eventually be a good option? Maybe, but the science/technology isn’t there yet.
    3) The entire basis for the lawsuit is that the plaintiff cannot enjoy the park while knowing that deers are being shot. This is ridiculous. I’d like to counter-sue under the premise that I can’t enjoy the park while knowing that deer overbrowsing is fucking up the ecology of the park.

    I encourage everyone NOT to sign this petition. The National Park Service is doing the right thing here (and no, I do not work for the NPS). Please let the experts do their job without being hassled.

  • MtPKim

    In the past 3 weeks alone, I have almost hit a handful of deer; once when two darted into an intersection, and another time when I almost hit a buck that was meandering down Beach Rd. at night.

    People need to get over this whole perceived idea that this is a sweet, cute animal. They are pests, they are dangerous, and they are destroying the the parks here. Birth control is all well and good on paper, but I doubt it’ll work in practice. I’m for shooting and trapping them.

    Hell, poison them– whatever it takes to not have one leap into my windshield.

  • reality

    Contraception won’t work. The deer won’t take the pill because they want to have more fawns to get handouts from the government. Until we reform the welfare system, does will be hos and continue to have as many fawns as they can to get bigger checks.

  • AngryParakeet

    Another reason to reduce their numbers – they are vectors for lyme disease. If you ever are up close to the deer when their coat hair is short (as I often am on the RC trails) you can see their fur bumpy with ticks. Ew.

    • Anonymous

      They also starve and are prone to more diseases when living at such high density. But much more humane to let them starve and suffer chronic wasting.

    • Not theoretical. My wife contracted Lyme disease, and RCP was the only plausible source at the right time.

  • Dave

    I think the plaintiffs in this case are fringe and unreasonable. In blocking the Park Service from implementing their plan, they are perpetuating a public safety problem and also ensuring that far more deer will be killed via starvation or by being forced into populated areas full of drivers. End the nonsense, hunt the deer, and begin to develop a future plan that may or may not include contraception.

    In many ways this reminds me of the small group of so-called “neighbors” that were trying to keep Hank’s Oyster Bar’s patio closed down, even though they lived several blocks away. This is being litigious just for the sake of it.

  • The solution is simple: let’s reintroduce the natural predators! After all, we already have coyotes in the park, so it’s not a far throw to wolves, and eventually, mountain lions. And who on the Internet doesn’t like cats?

  • Paul

    Hey POP, where is the petition supporting the current deer culling plan? The contraceptive plan will require years to effectively reduce the deer population and will do nothing to reduce the danger of Lyme Disease being spread to park residence. Show a little balance in the advocacy.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Feel free to post one Paul – there was not one in the emails I’ve seen.

  • Anonymous

    I like this quote from the City Paper article:

    But that’s little consolation for Grunewald, who claims that, if the deer are killed, she could be forced to leave her neighborhood. “She may actually have to sell her home where she has lived for over twenty years and relocate to an area that is nowhere near Rock Creek Park,” the lawsuit reads.

    Forced to leave? No, you would choose to leave because you’re upset about Bambi being killed. What’s next – comparing hunters to nazis?

    • Anonymous

      I think this quote is good too: Another plaintiff, Anne Barton, has lived close to the park for 36 years, painting the deer that come to her yard. According to the suit, though, she would probably stop painting any remaining deer if the cull begins

      • Anonymous

        She’s marking deer with paint? That sounds pretty cruel to me.

  • Anonymous

    We should nuke them from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  • crin

    Rats on stilts. Thin them out now.

    • Anonymous

      rats with hooves

  • Anon X

    This whole thing doesnt make sense and the inherent cognitive dissonance about fighting a deer cull but not fighting a rat cull, a roach cull, an ant cull, a mosquito cull, or any other planned population reduction of an animal causing problems makes no sense

    Why are disease spreading, hazard creating deer any more precious than disease spreading, hazard creating rats?

    Deer are nothing special in the animal world. They are just part of the circle of life and were put here to eat lower organisms and be eaten by higher ones.

    This whole thing that every living thing is precious* is ridiculous.

    *- except for the living things that I dont like.

    • Maymo

      I feel that way about many, many people.

  • pedro

    we could just drop an H bomb and start all over but think of all the venison we would waste.

  • Anonymous

    Can’t we just do what we did with all the rats in DC, and secretly migrate them all to Virginia? Shhhhhhhh … no one tell Cuccinelli.

    • Jes


  • Abstinence

    We must teach these deer Abstinence.

  • Anonymous

    What we need are more cougars. And wolves. And maybe some bears in DC.

    • CoHiGuy

      I fail to see how Courteney Cox would solve this problem.

      • Joe E.

        I don’t see the bears doing any good either, but next time I’m in the gay bar I’ll ask to see what they can do about the deer problem.

  • It’s either controlling the deer or not having a forest in 20 years. You pick.

  • Randy Detman

    I would like to propose a simple plan that solves this and many other deer/nature/local food problems in this city.

    We need to develop an after-school/work program to teach the urban youth and local residents how to safely handle a bow and arrow. Then teach them how to harvest a deer with that bow and arrow. We can then teach students and adults how to butcher the animals and let them take the meat home for their families to eat.

    Venison is a high-quality meat that is lean and as free range as you can get.

    NPS could also sell bow-hunting tags to residents who can pass a bow-hunting proficiency test. This would raise revenue which can be used to educate the public on ethical hunting and harvesting techniques. They would have to designate hunting areas for a few weeks every year. Bow-hunting is not only a more ethical method of harvest, but it is also very safe. A typical hunter would never need to take shot over 15-20 yards to harvest an animal.

    This program would also serve as a way to further connect local residents to the nature that surrounds where their food comes from and the most ethical methods to harvest meat. I strongly believe that if you choose to eat meat, then you should be able to harvest that meat from the woods or farm, butcher the animal and eat it. There is a critical disconnection, especially in urban areas, between the meals on our table and where it came from.

    Using contraception is completely unethical. It releases dangerous hormones and chemicals into the food cycle which is difficult to mitigate. Paying sharpshooters to use guns to hunt is also ridiculous and dangerous. Why would we pay people to shoot the animals? I know for a fact (based on some of the large trophy bucks I’ve seen) we could be making money on selling bow hunting tags! The only other option would be to reintroduce the eastern timber wolf, which is not going to be an option for many reasons.


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