Friday, May 05, 2006

MARYLAND NEWS: Deer SWAT teams in suburban Washington DC

Excerpt from today's Washington Post

"It might sound strange to think of deer SWAT teams in the suburbs," said Norman, 50, a soft-spoken pastor with wire-rimmed glasses. "But if we don't do something pretty soon the deer will be stampeding down the streets."

Desperate to control exploding deer populations, some Washington area communities have turned in recent years to organized hunts -- often by recreational hunters -- to thin the herds. Now they are relying more and more on sharpshooters and police SWAT teams to hunt the animals even in some densely populated neighborhoods.

The District and Fairfax and Montgomery counties --not to mention private citizens -- have hired professional sharpshooters to kill the animals.

Even in an area where development often collides with nature, the rise of the suburban sharpshooter stands out as problematic. But deer control experts say the use of sharpshooters is often a safer or most efficient way to reduce the number of animals in densely populated residential areas.

Earl Hodnett, Fairfax County's wildlife biologist, said the county realized in 1998 that it had to take drastic steps when it found as many as 400 deer per square mile in some parks, more than 20 times the ecologically desirable level. Members of the police SWAT team have been assigned to hunt deer, shooting from the back of an olive drab pickup truck in parks near homes in such places as Great Falls and Clifton.

In Montgomery, which also uses police tactical officers as deer sharpshooters, the number of deer killed in organized hunts in county parks has skyrocketed from 19 in 1999, the year the program began, to 535 this year.

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