Deer Management Program Seeks to Reduce Herd
Program to begin protecting area forests; Deer have been spotted at St. Aidan's.
Plate glass shattered as the deer leaped through the house window. It rampaged across the ground floor, bleeding and breaking furniture and parts of walls. Leaving the house’s residents with emotional damage, this incident was just one result of deer overpopulation near Cub Run Stream Valley Park in Centreville about 10 years ago.
Through the Fairfax County Deer Management Program, however, such events are now uncommon in this community, said Charles Smith, senior natural resource specialist for the Fairfax County Park Authority.
The Deer Management Program, which aims to control the white-tailed deer population through controlled hunts, begins its 2011-2012 season in September. Experts say deer cause environmental degradation, become road hazards and may transfer diseases to humans.
“We’ve let Bambi be on his own long enough and we have to protect the other natural resources that are part of Fairfax County,” said Anthony Vellucci, Braddock District Representative to the Fairfax County Park Authority Board.
This is the first year that deer management will occur in each of the county’s nine supervisor districts, said Vicky Monroe, Fairfax County wildlife biologist. St, Aidans Episcopal Church recently sent an email to subscribers noting the presence of deer on the property.
At minimum, about 60 to 100 deer per square mile live in the county, which exceeds the area’s biological carrying capacity of 15 to 20 deer per square mile, she said. The management program has grown increasingly effective, Monroe said. Fiscal year 2011 brought a record yield of 815 deer – more than twice the harvest of fiscal year 2010.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries allows archery, managed hunts and sharpshooting for deer population control, Monroe said. Overall program operations run in selected public parks from late September through late February, she added.
Still, hunters need to stay further away from houses, said Duncan Wainwright, who lives near the archery program site South Run Park. Although deer management is necessary, he said, hunting endangers area residents, including children who cross through the park.
Archers must harvest deer from elevated tree stands at least 100 feet from park boundaries with neighboring properties, Monroe said via email. But 100 feet is “less than half of a football field,” Wainwright said. At a public information meeting in Springfield on Aug. 10, he proposed moving the archers at least 100 yards away.
“I’m looking for the program to be as safe as possible,” he said. “They allow hunters to be close to houses and trails. I’d like to see them in a more heavily wooded part of the woods.”
But public safety remains “paramount,” Monroe said. “Highly-trained” Fairfax County Police Department SWAT team members conduct sharpshooting endeavors at night, and during managed hunts, parks are closed to the public. Only publicly qualified archers and hunters participate, she added.
“There’s an integrity to the program that has to be maintained,” Monroe said.
Environmental damage results from “deer browse” on forest understory, which harms native plant communities, she said. Organisms that depend on ground vegetation then suffer from this understory depletion. Deer also eat tree nuts and seedlings, which prevents fresh growth, Smith said.
“Our forests are shifting to a very simplified system,” he said. “We are getting very few species of new trees.”
Moreover, deer pose risks to drivers, Monroe said. According to State Farm Insurance, Virginia ranked fifth in the United States for deer-vehicle collisions in 2009, she said via email. Humans may also contract Lyme disease and other sicknesses from these animals too.
Such overpopulation results partially from few predators and little hunting activity, Monroe said. Deer also have a high reproductive capability, Smith added. Furthermore, county suburbs offer forest vegetation and landscaped yards as food sources, he said.
“You can have more deer in a suburban landscape than in a purely forested landscape,” he said. “We have to take action today.”
See previous Patch coverage on the deer population in Fairfax County.
Naomi Nix contributed to this report.