Deer Management

browse line

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

NPS photo


Update on 2014 Management Activities (4/22/14)

Catoctin Mountain Park Concludes Deer Management Actions for Winter 2013-2014 and Conducts Population Surveys

Official Press Release

THURMONT, MD – Catoctin Mountain Park completed the fifth 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 inability of native forests to regenerate due to consumption of tree and shrub seedlings by an increasing deer population.

Park staff worked with United States Department of Agriculture Biologists to carry out the herd reduction as a safe and humane operation. This included using highly qualified and experienced personnel familiar with the park's geography, establishing safety zones and conducting population reduction actions in closed areas of the Park, shooting from elevated positions with a safe backdrop, and utilizing non-lead ammunition. Reduction took place between November 2013 and March 2014, resulting in the removal of 156 deer from the park. A total of 6,046 pounds of venison was donated to the Thurmont Food Bank in Frederick County, Maryland during the winter of 2013-2014.

Deer Management will continue annually to reduce the deer population at Catoctin. Before the first season of deer management began in February 2010, there were approximately 123 deer per square mile in the Park. Before the fifth season reduction began the deer population was estimated by NPS Biologists to be 36 deer per square mile. This is still more than 2 times higher than the density of deer in healthy forest ecosystems (15 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.

Spring deer population monitoring spotlight surveys will be conducted April 24, 25, 28, 29, and 30. There will be no road closures during the spotlight survey, which will occur after dusk.

Click here to download detailed answers to some FAQs.
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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