Arboretum Considers Reducing Deer

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew Cella, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

National Arboretum officials are considering controlled hunts as one way to eradicate a runaway deer population destroying exhibits and research at the urban forest.

Arboretum Director Thomas Elias said he doesn't know how many deer are on the 446-acre federal preserve in Northeast, but that their numbers are growing.

"It's just getting to the point now where they can do more damage than they have in the past," said Mr. Elias, who has been director of the arboretum since 1993.

"I have reports from staff of [deer] in the research fields ... eating experimental plants or brushing against trees or shrubs with their antlers," he said.

Mr. Elias said some of the research plants damaged by deer are 10-year to 15-year projects that involve cross-breeding species.

"That could translate into monetary [damage]," Mr. Elias said. "It's expensive to conduct these research projects over time."

Arboretum officials have never before considered controlling the deer population, but deer-related damage now is the worst it has been in the last five to 10 years. Deer have entered the arboretum by swimming across the Anacostia River and traipsing through Langston Golf Course, which adjoins the preserve, officials said.

The arboretum has not had any deer-car collisions on its 9.5 miles of roads because its speed limits are low, and deer are more likely to emerge in early morning and late evening when the arboretum is closed, Mr. Elias said.

The 76-year-old arboretum is run by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The arboretum shares a $9.8 million annual budget with ARS research facilities in Glenn Dale, Md.; Beltsville; and McMinnville, Tenn.

The simplest way to keep deer from entering the arboretum would be to mend fences, but more action would be needed to deal with the ever-breeding population already on the grounds, Mr. Elias said.

The trap-and-transfer method has been criticized as too costly - about $800 per deer. And conservationists note that 85 percent of relocated deer died in a recent trap-and-transfer project in California.

Mr. Elias also expressed concern that the traps would be a hazard to children. Further, "If we put in live traps, where do we put [the captured deer]? Because no one wants them," he said.

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland recently studied the possibility of shooting darts laced with contraceptive drugs. …