• Catoctin Mountain

    Catoctin Mountain

    Park Maryland

Deer Management

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

Update on 2011 Management Activities (10/14/2011)

Deer reduction activities will resume this season with spotlight surveys during the week of October 24. The spotlight surveys are one of many tools the NPS uses to estimate the deer population and its effects on park natural resources.

Closures for direct reduction begin on November 14, with a total of six weeks scheduled throughout the winter. Scheduled closures are subject to change due to weather, population patterns, and other circumstances. See the official press release for details.

Last year, reduction took place over 19 nights between December 2010 and March 2011, resulting in the removal of 192 deer from the park. A total of 4,743 pounds of venison resulting from this action was donated to the Maryland Food Bank and Thurmont Food Bank in Frederick County, Maryland.

A total of 180 deer were tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal, neurological disease that has been detected in Maryland approximately 45 miles from the Park boundary. All of these deer tested negative for the presence of CWD.

Reduction using firearms will continue annually to reduce and maintain the deer population at Catoctin. Before the first season of deer management began (February - March 2010), there were approximately 123 deer per square mile in the Park. Following this herd reduction, there are now 87 deer per square mile, still approximately 6 times larger than the density of deer in healthy forest ecosystems (15 deer per square mile). The number of deer removed annually will be based on the results of annual vegetation monitoring and the results of deer population monitoring conducted each fall. The deer herd will be maintained at a density that allows the forest to regenerate at a healthy rate, as determined by the annual vegetation monitoring.

Check this page and our news releases for updates.

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.

Did You Know?

Morel mushrooms with a human hand for size comparison.

Visitors in Catoctin Mountain Park may gather morel mushrooms for personal consumption. Morels are found in a variety of habitats but generally they seem to be found in wet soil that is high in organic matter and shaded by trees, especially hardwoods. Favorite locations are closely guarded secrets!