City Desk

Deer In Rock Creek Park, Managed

City Paper alum Stephanie Mencimer mentions D.C.'s Rock Creek Park as an aside about how the country's deer population is exploding without any wolves to keep them in check:

Deer have been a blight on suburbia for a while now, munching their way through tract-housing gardens and making some highways extremely dangerous for motorists, as their populations have exploded. (In DC, where they live in abundant numbers in the city's biggest park, Rock Creek Park, they're known by neighbors as rats with antlers.) Deer are also radically changing places like the forests of the Adirondacks by devouring young tree shoots from the storied maples and leaving nothing but beech. But a new study finds that it's not just deer populations that are wreaking havoc on North American ecosystems. It's all of the large mammals that graze on plants.

Moose, elk, and deer populations are at historic highs, according to an extensive review by scientists at Oregon State University. And they're taking their toll on young trees, reducing biodiversity of forests and contributing to climate change as a result. The leading cause of the disrupted ecosystems is the disappearance of the predators, namely wolves and bears. Researchers found that large mammal densities were six times higher in areas without wolves than in those with them.

Adding a couple of wolves to Rock Creek probably wouldn't be a feasible solution to the deer population, but what with deer visiting libraries these days, something should be done. Luckily, the National Park Service is winding up a three-year process of deciding how to manage deer in the park. They've produced a lengthy report about their preferred method of deer mitigation (and less lethal alternatives): which includes capture and euthanasia, sharpshooting, and birth control.

Photo by Mr. T In DC via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License

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  • Mr T in DC

    Bring on the wolves and coyotes, and let nature take care of itself.

  • Mr. Bobcat

    I insist someone pitch a fit about "free birth control from the government." How come the over-populating deer can get it but the over-populating primates can't?

  • Typical DC BS

    The wolves & coyotes would most likely take out a lot of young fawns, thereby helping out with population control. Unfortunately, they'd also take out a lot of cats and other pets that are allowed to roam free.

    I can also safely say that suburban folks wouldn't like seeing wolves and coyotes roaming their neighborhoods.

    Sharpshooting and euthanasia would be the next best options. I don't believe birth control is effective, as the cost is astronomical and most deer would be missed by any controls.

  • Tara Zuardo

    Actually, immunocontraception is quite effective in controlling white-tailed deer populations, and can be delivered remotely with costs minimized if it is administered by trained volunteers. See

  • Typical DC BS

    @Tara - Interesting article on immunocontraception. The only drawbacks I saw were the limited areas they've tried it in (Fire Island, Frip Island and NIST - fenced-in area) lead to easier populations to control and the need to vaccinate yearly. Would like to see a bigger test - maybe in the Rock Creek Park area? - to see how it works in a larger area.

    Deer are even overwhelming the ability of hunters to keep them in check. We definitely need other methods to help out.

  • seeseehpounder

    Deer meat is delicious. I would like to purchase some. This could be a good way for DC Govt to get some cash.

  • margaret

    Managing deer in urban settings is not a new problem -- DC could probably do research on how other municipalities handle this problem. My personal favorite is the culling of urban deer herds for meat. In my home town this meat is given to homeless shelters and food banks. Venison is tasty!

  • margaret

    Oh, and...Rock Creek Park is the only place I've ever seen a 6-point buck. It was amazing.