Deer Management

browse line

The browse line from deer shows up very clearly in some areas of the park.

NPS photo


Update on 2015 Management Activities:

Catoctin Mountain Park Donates More Than 4,485 Pounds of Deer Meat To Local Food Banks

THURMONT, MD –Catoctin Mountain Park completed the sixth year of white-tailed deer population reduction as prescribed in the Catoctin White-tailed Deer Management Plan / Final Environmental Impact Statement.The plan addressed the consumption of tree and shrub seedlings by an increasing deer population, which has limited the ability of native forests to regenerate.

Herd reduction took place between November 2014 and February 2015, resulting in the removal of 119 deer from the park. A total of 4,485 pounds of venison (deer meat) was donated to the local Thurmont Food Bank, the Help Hotline, and the Lunch Place soup kitchen.

Pastor Sally Joyner-Giffin, with the Thurmont Food Bank, described the donated venison as "…a special treat for many families.With the high cost of meat it has been a blessing to have the donation of locally killed deer meat. We have been providing food for over 300 households each month and there are times when we can only afford hot dogs or Vienna sausage. The deer meat has been a very welcome addition. People have remarked on how fresh it tastes and they have been very grateful for it."

"In the past 5 months 'HELP Hotline' based in Blue Ridge Summit PA, serving four counties in two states, helped 118 local families needing food assistance.Venison, donated through the National Park Service at Catoctin Mountain Park, is our main source of protein and so well received by the families they began to share recipes and cooking ideas. We most certainly look forward to using this service in the future." –HELP Hotline staff.

Reduction using firearms will continue annually to reduce and maintain the deer population at Catoctin.Before the firstseason of deer management began in February 2010, there were approximately 123 deer per square mile in the Park.Before the sixth season of reduction began, the deer population was estimated by Park Biologists to be 35 deer per square mile. The deer density in a healthy forest is 15-20 deer per square mile.The number of deer removed each year will be based on the results of annual vegetation monitoring and deer population monitoring conducted each fall and what the weather permits us to take.

pre-park forest

Before the park was established, the forest looked barren.

NPS photo

A Successful Renewal

The Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area has proven a great success for the regeneration of our natural resources. When the park was established in 1936, much of the land was considered submarginal, the forest was decimated, and the white-tailed deer was nowhere to be seen. Now that the forest has grown healthier, the deer have returned. Surveys indicated that in 2009, the park's deer population numbered over 1,000.

starved deer

A deer succumbed to starvation.

NPS photo

Too Much of a Good Thing

Since this ecosystem emerged from the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, deer had lived in balance with predatory wolves, cougars, and especially humans. Now the large predators are gone, and federal law prohibits hunting in national parks. The deer population grows unchecked. The forest that has enough food for 12 deer per square mile strains under the demands of 120 deer per square mile.

Turkey, squirrels, and other species that eat the same food cannot compete. Native plants and saplings, such as wild orchids and mountain laurel, never have a chance to grow. Invasive stiltgrass, mile-a-minute, and other brambles take over the landscape. They contain little nutrition and animals do not recognize them as food. Eventually, the deer themselves starve and suffer from disease.

spotlight survey

Park scientists use spotlight surveys to count deer populations.

NPS photo

Management of Our Natural Resources

The job that hunters and predators once performed now falls in the hands of our nation's principal conservation agency. By reducing the deer population, the NPS is not doing anything new. We are simply doing an old job with the new tools of science, regulation, professional hunters, and the democratic process.

We considered many options. The most viable options were direct reduction and contraceptive darting. Among those, the least expensive and most effective option is direct reduction. Even doing nothing about the problem would still cost the park significantly. You can read about the various options in the management plan.

vegetation survey

Park scientists measure vegetation growth.

NPS photo

Safety, Science, and Success

The main goal is not the reduction of the deer, but the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. While we intend to reduce the population below the sustainable number of 225, we will adjust our operations as we see success in progress. We continually monitor the health of the deer herd and the vegetation. Since operations began in 2009, we have begun to see the fruits of our labors.

We employ professionals from the USDA who maintain the highest standards of safety. Most operations occur at night, when the park is closed to visitors. Most of the targeted areas lie far from trails frequented by hikers. We clearly post and close areas where shooting may occur. Please watch for alerts on our home page or call the park (301-663-9388) if you have any concerns about visiting us during these operations.

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