Monday, January 08, 2007

MARYLAND NEWS: Deer Problems at Catoctin National Park

THURMONT — At Catoctin Mountain Park, officials are thinking about taking aim at the park’s deer population.

About two dozen people attended a public meeting Saturday to comment on a proposed plan to reduce the park’s deer population from a high in 2004 of 193 per square mile down to about 15 to 20 per square mile.

A deer survey from fall 2006 estimated the current deer population was about 88 deer per square mile.

The drop has been attributed to hunting pressure outside the park, said Scott Bates, a National Park Service regional wildlife biologist. Bates also said the state’s implementation of liberal bag limits of up to 36 deer for bow, muzzleloader and firearms seasons played a role.

“That and it was pretty close to 200 deer per square mile. There wasn’t much left for the deer to feed on,” he said.

The park service announced last month that using sharpshooters was the preferred alternative to reduce the herd.

Sharpshooting would not occur within 100 feet of a building or within 400 feet of the park boundary, according to the White-tailed Deer Management Plan. In those areas, capture and euthanization would be used.

The park service also is considering the use of current monitoring programs, birth control and fencing as other alternatives.

Reducing the deer population will help restore balance to the park’s ecosystem. Fewer deer will allow the native plant species they eat to grow back.

“Every park in the region — in the East — is experiencing deer problems,” said Diane Pavek, a botanist for the NPS National Capital Region.

She said Catoctin’s White-tailed Deer Management Plan will become a model for other parks in the region.

Open space in urban areas is contributing to the problem, Pavek said. Deer feed on woodland edges and in open areas and return to the mountain at night, she said.