National Park Service say too many deer hurting forestland

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The National Park Service is concerned about the amount of deer that call the DMV-area parks and forestland home.

In response, Harpers Ferry and The National Park Service announced Monday its plan to reduce the population of deer that threatens Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal national historical parks.

According to a statement from the NPS, the high number of white-tailed deer are threatening the natural beauty and historic scenery at the parks by eating almost all of the tree seedlings, compromising the forests' ability to sustain themselves.

“Essentially there are too many deer in the parks,” said Jeremy Barnum, a spokesman for the National Park Service. “They don't have many natural predators so the balance in the ecosystem has been thrown out of whack.”

Barnum said ideally there would be 15-20 deer per square mile of forestland. Instead the park service has recorded 60 and up to 150 deer per square mile of park.

Deer overpopulation map

You don’t have to run into a deer while walking a trail to notice see their impact.

“You can see essentially what we call the browse line where it’s essentially what the deer can reach and eat and they literally strip the trees, they strip all the wildflowers, etc.,” said Barnum. “So there's really no undergrowth in the forest.”

The lack of undergrowth and thinning trees also endanger the critical habitat for native birds and other wildlife.

Deer population control can be achieved a few different ways including using sharpshooters hired by parks departments and birth control methods.

The National Park Service has developed a plan but wants to get public feedback on their proposed methods. You can offer your opinion online or attend a series of public information meetings on the plan this May. Here is a link for more information on those meetings which begin May 2.

Other area parks are experiencing similar issues with the overpopulation of deer, including Rock Creek Park. Sharpshooters are utilized to keep the number of deer in the area manageable. In the past, meat from the deer is then donated to homeless shelters in the area.

There are three other parks in the national capital region that already have approved and implemented white-tailed deer management plans: Antietam National Battlefield (Md.), Catoctin Mountain Park (Md.), and Monocacy National Battlefield (Md.)