Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lessons Learned: Managed Hunting as a Solution to Deer Overabundance in Howard County Maryland

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lessons Learned: Managed Hunting as a Solution to Deer Overabundance in Howard County Maryland

Article excerpt

Consequences of Too Many Deer

White-tail deer in many parts of the Northeast have greatly increased in number as a result of lack of natural predators, reduced interest and opportunity for hunting, and favorable food sources available in the suburban and agricultural landscapes.

Howard County, Maryland, a county of more than 250,000 people located between Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., like many suburban jurisdictions, has a deer overabundance problem. A recently completed report, sponsored by the Middle Patuxent Environmental Foundation, describes their county's successful approach in dealing with this problem over the last eleven years, and may serve as a useful model for other governmental entities and communities.

In many areas, deer numbers greatly exceed the carrying capacity of the land resulting in the over-browsing of desirable vegetation while undesirable invasive species proliferate. "It is common today to see forested areas where essentially all vegetation, from the ground, to as high as the deer can reach, has been removed," says county resident David Pardoe, a former staff member of the National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society board member. The consequence is that bird and other wildlife species who depend upon ground-level and lower tree and shrub level habitat are deprived of required places to nest, reproduce, feed, and seek shelter. Because this habitat destruction is a result of wildlife itself, there is a hesitation in confronting the problem." Pardoe's conclusion is that deer over-abundance needs to be reduced.


Balancing Public Perception

A dilemma often facing park and recreation departments is the difficult choice of balancing the public perception of deer as a wonderful natural and desirable part of the landscape with the reality that excessive numbers can do great damage to the resources park and recreation professionals are responsible for managing.

Rapid expansion of the deer herd in central Maryland has resulted in increased numbers of auto accidents, damage to cropland and suburban landscaping, and concern about the rise in Lyme disease. As a first step to addressing this problem, Howard County government decided to focus on a 1,000-acre environmental management area adjacent to the new town of Columbia, Maryland. This area is part of the county park system and is owned and managed by the county with management oversight and funding from a private, nonprofit entity known as the Middle Patuxent Environmental Foundation (MPEF).

Deer Management Task Force

In 1996, a task force was formed by the Howard County Extension Service (HCES) to analyze the problem, examine alternative solutions, and offer a plan of action. In order to be successful, it was quickly realized that the task force must be balanced with experts representing many points of view. Such a group was formed comprising individuals with varied backgrounds and interests including ecology, agriculture, hunting, wildlife biology, and veterinary medicine. The task force also included representatives of the Howard County departments of police, animal control and recreation and parks. Later, the county government showed its support by passing a resolution endorsing the idea of a study and giving the group a new name--the "Deer Management Task Force." Fifteen members served on the task force including other homeowner associations, private citizens, an animal rights advocate, and a representative from the legislative branch of the county government. The task force was chaired by Charles "Chick" Rhodehamel, an ecologist, and the director of the Columbia Association's land management division--one of the largest homeowner associations in the United States and represents a community with 3,500 acres of publicly accessible open space.

The task force was charged with the responsibility of investigating the deer in the county and developing recommendations for resolving the human-deer conflicts throughout the county. …

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