MARYLAND

Hunt proposed to control Rock Creek Park deer population

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For many Montgomery County residents, Rock Creek Park is an enclave a place to get away from it all. But authorities say hikers, dog walkers, bicyclists and joggers are sharing the park with a rapidly growing deer population.

"It's mating season right now," said Suzanne Lasky, who lives in a Chevy Chase neighborhood adjoining the park. "I'm very cautious... they dart out at your car."

Residents said the deer are appearing in larger numbers along neighboring streets, in  busy subdivisions and even in fenced in backyards.

"They come and go as they please, and they're like a swarm," added resident Chuck Alston. "They're a disaster for people who are driving, a disaster for the plants. They eat everything."

County park officials believe there are 40 to 50 deer in the Montgomery County section of the park, which spans about 277 acres.

"I've had friends who've run into deer while biking, so I certainly understand the problem," said Jeff Kass, a bicyclist from D.C.

To help reel in the problem, park officials have proposed a population control plan - a controlled hunt using police sharp shooters when the park is closed.

That kind of activity in a public park, closed or not, makes some park visitors a bit worried.

"Having sharpshooters shoot them? In a relatively high populated area? I don't think that's a good idea," park visitor Chad Henry said.

"It sounds like a cruel solution," Kass added. "I think that makes me a little nervous, too."

The hunts would take place between January and March, overnight, from 5:30 p.m. until sunrise. During that time, the public would not be allowed inside.

"I think it is a good idea," said Chevy Chase resident Jerry Rice. "I'm sorry, it's necessary."

Rice, who's installed two fences, including one that six and a half feet tall, said he's not sure it anything besides a hunt would keep the deer off his property.

"We make regular visits to the Shenandoah National Park during the summer," Rice continued. "...we see more deer right here in our backyard inside the beltway."

But Lasky wonders if there are other options.

"Have like a tranquilizer with sterilization, like a vet can do, so there won't be so many," she proposed.

In the end, most agree the clash of man vs. deer is unfortunate.

The Montgomery County Parks Department is seeking public comments until Oct. 26.

Authorities say if the plan gets the go-ahead, meat from the deer kills will be sent to area food pantries.

In the meantime, most agree there will be a heated debate among park neighbors and visitors.

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