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Park Service Not Budging on Rock Creek Park Deer Culling Debate

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The National Park Service says that the 70 deer per square mile in Rock Creek Park are preventing the forest from regenerating.
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The National Park Service says that the 70 deer per square mile in Rock Creek Park are preventing the forest from regenerating.

For the second year in a row, the National Park Service is using the practice of bringing in sharpshooters to kill deer in Rock Creek Park in an effort to thin the local herd and allow park vegetation a chance to regrow.

The lethal method of controlling the deer population continues to draw strong criticism from some local residents and from groups such as the Humane Society, but the Park Service isn't budging.

Stephanie Boyles-Griffin, the Humane Society's senior director of Wildlife Response, says everyone can agree that not managing the deer in Rock Creek park would be a disaster for the deer and local citizens who enjoy the park. But, she says, there are better ways to do it than what the Park Service has proposed.

"We put men on the moon — we can manage animals like deer living in Rock Creek without having to kill them," she says.

Boyles-Griffin says that long before the Park Service got final approval for its management plan, it solicited public opinion and got more than that from her group. The Humane Society advocated for immunocontraception as a way to thin the herd — and even offered to pay more than half the cost — an offer that still stands.

"It just seems a little outrageous that they wouldn't take a route that might take a little longer, but would let everyone achieve their management goals, but would make everyone happy and more importantly would be something NPS could be proud of instead of something they have to be ashamed of," she says.

Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles of the National Park Service says her agency has a responsibility to manage the entire park. And she says getting deer down from more than 70 per square mile to 15 to 20 per square mile needs to happen fast.

"We're in a crisis right now — and we need to quickly and effectively bring the population down to allow forest regenerate and to allow other plant life to flourish in Rock Creek Park," she argues.

Anzelmo-Sarles says NPS has rejected immunocontraception thus far because no method that can be remotely injected has been proven effective over a multi-year period without leaving chemical residue or changing behavior in deer.

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