Deer Management

White-Tailed Deer
White-Tailed Deer

NPS - Catoctin Mountain Park

Are there too many deer?

Deer herds throughout the eastern United States were heavily exploited after the arrival of Europeans around 1600. In the early 1900's, deer populations began to increase due to a lack of predators and an increased availability of food and habitat. When Catoctin Mountain Park was established in 1936, much of the land was considered sub-marginal. The forest was decimated due to the removal of trees for charcoal and lumber, and white-tailed deer were few and far between. The protection that national park status brought to the land and the early efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant trees in the new park at a time when deer numbers were low allowed for a healthy forest to grow. As the forest grew healthier, food became more plentiful and the deer found refuge in the park since hunting was, and is, prohibited by law.

The forest of Catoctin Mountain Park has that become strained under the demands of a large deer herd, which eat nearly all of the young trees. Other wildlife species such as turkeys and squirrels are also affected as they compete for limited food.

Deer Management Plan

Catoctin Mountain Park developed a Deer Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that supports forest regeneration and provides for long-term protection, conservation, and restoration of native species and cultural landscapes. The selected alternative in the EIS calls for continuing current park deer and vegetation monitoring and research. In addition, it includes using qualified professionals to conduct lethal removal to reduce the deer population to the initial goal of 15-20 deer per square mile. This goal is based on recent research conducted in eastern deciduous forests similar to Catoctin's forest. Research has shown that vegetation damage occurs when deer populations exceed 20 per square mile. The park held three public meetings from 2004-2007 to gather comments on alternatives that were being considered and the draft plan. The final EIS was signed by the NPS National Capital Regional Director in April 2009.

Deer Management Begins

Park staff implemented the first season of deer management operations in February 2010. Extensive safety measures were put in place to protect park visitors and neighbors during the operations. Operations were conducted mostly at night, when the park was closed to visitors. During daytime operations, roads and trails were intermittently closed and clearly marked and bait was used to attract deer to safe shooting locations.

Deer management, under the direction of park managers and in coordination with law enforcement park rangers, is conducted by highly trained firearms experts experienced in conducting wildlife reduction operations. Catoctin has a long history of conducting safe and effective actions to reduce deer populations and between 2010 and 2021, donated 41,877 pounds of venison to local nonprofits serving those in need.

Purple Fringed Orchid
Purple Fringed Orchid

NPS Catoctin Mountain Park

Success Stories

Catoctin Mountain Park's deer population was roughly 123 deer per square mile in the fall of 2009, before the first season of deer management. The density of the deer population had led to a decline in the number of tree seedlings and saplings in the forest understory, threatening the long-term viability of the forest itself.
Since deer management began in 2010, there has been a 21-fold increase in tree seedling density in the park, which demonstrates that deer management can be an effective tool in promoting seedling regeneration. Other native plants have benefited from the smaller number of deer. For example, the state threatened purple fringed orchid was more plentiful in a 2016 census than it was in 2008, and the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid was more than ten times as plentiful as it was in 2008. Park staff began using fencing in the late 1980's to protect the purple fringed orchids from disappearing. Fencing is no longer needed today.


2009 to 2022 Comparison

Squares made of PVC pipe for measurement are on bare forest floor with fallen leaves and wood, nothing green growing. Squares made of PVC pipe for measurement are on bare forest floor with fallen leaves and wood, nothing green growing.

Left image
Credit: NPS Photo

Right image
Credit: NPS Photo/Becky Loncosky

Slide over the image to see how this monitored area has changed over 13 years! 

Before deer management began, this vegetation monitoring plot showed no sign of seedling regeneration. Thirteen years later, young trees were present in the same vegetation monitoring plot. 


Current status

The goal of deer management is to allow for successful forest regeneration within the park. While vegetation monitoring is so far showing progress each year, the vegetation goals set in the deer management plan have not yet been achieved. As a result, the park will continue to manage the deer herd (at a density of around 15-20 per square mile) until vegetation has fully recovered.
Deer management operations take place between November and March each year. Check back soon for the latest news on upcoming operations and park closures.

More information

Frequently Asked Questions
Deer Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)


Catoctin Deer Management News Releases

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    Last updated: December 22, 2023

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    6602 Foxville Road
    Thurmont, MD 21788


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