Deer Management

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

NPS photo

2016 Deer Management Program Update

Catoctin Mountain Park Donates More Than 30,800 Pounds of Deer Meat to Local Food Banks

THURMONT, MD –Catoctin Mountain Park completed the seventh 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.

Reduction began on November 16, 2015 and was concluded on January 21, 2016, resulting in the removal of 76 deer from the park. This season, more than 2,400 pounds of venison (deer meat) were donated to the local Thurmont Food Bank, the Help Hotline, and the Lunch Place soup kitchen. Since 2010, the park has donated more than 30,800 pounds of venison to local food banks.

According to Pastor Sally Joyner-Giffin, coordinator of the Thurmont Food Bank, "It's a tremendous help to the Thurmont Food Bank to partner with Catoctin Mountain National Park to get fresh deer meat to local people. More than 500 households have benefited from this partnership that uses local resources to feed those in need. The Park Service and Shuff's Meats have been wonderful to work with. During the cold winter month's people really appreciate receiving high protein meat that can supplement the basic foods we give regularly out."

HELP Hot Line staff stated that "The Help Hot Line Food Bank at Blue Ridge Summit PA is most grateful to again this year get venison, our main source of protein, from the Catoctin Mountain Park's Deer Harvest Program. Our clients are very appreciative to have this quality meat, 59 families received food assistance in the months of December 2015 and January 2016. Many of these families, most with children, prefer the burger because of its versatility, however we find the ladies willing to share recipes for the roast which they use for stews and BBQ."

Before the first season of deer management began in February 2010, there were approximately 123 deer per square mile in the Park. Park Biologists estimate that the deer population is now within 15 - 20 deer per square mile, which is the target density described in the White-tailed Deer Management Plan/EIS.

NPS employees that conduct annual plant surveys found that there are nearly 10 times the number of native tree seedlings today than there were before deer management operations began. Before deer management, there were roughly 255 seedlings per acre and there are currently about 2,443 seedlings per acre. Park staff will continue to conduct annual vegetation monitoring, fall deer density surveys, and deer reduction operations as needed to maintain the herd at 15-20 deer per square mile. Catoctin Mountain Park is one of 409 units administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. The Park Visitor Center, located on State Route 77 three miles west of Thurmont, Maryland, is open Sunday-Saturday from 10:00 am –5:00 pm.

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.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

6602 Foxville Road
Thurmont, MD 21788


(301) 663-9388
This phone number is for the visitor center and is answered during regular operating hours. An outgoing voicemail message provides information when the visitor center is closed.

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