The National Park Service is sending sharpshooters back into Rock Creek Park to pare down the number of white-tailed deer that populate the 2,800-acre park, beginning possibly as early as tonight. Although animal-rights activists have objected to the exercise, NPS officials say the deer cull is necessary to protect the park’s vegetation.
Park officials launched a three-year program in 2013 to reduce Rock Creek Park’s deer population from 77 per square mile to a more manageable 15 or 20. Sharpshooters brought in last March killed 20 deer over a three-night span; NPS officials later donated 600 pounds of venison to DC Central Kitchen.
Although it had a charitable result, last year’s deer cull prompted reaction from detractors ranging from organizations like the Washington Humane Socity to Council member Marion Barry, who wrote on Twitter that the hunt made the NPS a candidate for a “Mofo of the Month” award. Opponents of the deer cull are also appealing a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed last year in hopes of stopping the deer cull.
But the Park Service says the deer cull is going to go on as planned. Tara Morrison, the superintendent of Rock Creek Park, told Reuters that deer overpopulation is a recent problem, exploding over the past 20 years to the point where the creatures eat nearly all the park’s seedlings. And it’s not as thought the National Zoo’s cheetahs can solve the problem alone.
The hunting will begin after nightfall, when the park is closed to visitors. Roads through Rock Creek Park will be shut down as an extra precaution.