History of White-tailed Deer in Rock Creek Park
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are common throughout North and Central America. Without natural predators and with favorable habitat, deer have flourished in Rock Creek Park. Before 1960, there were no recorded sightings of white-tailed deer in the park. By the early 1990s, sightings were so frequent that the park stopped recording them. Their numbers in the last decade have reached nearly 100 per square mile at the peak.
The National Park Service must balance the needs of all animals and plants in Rock Creek Park. A consistent deer population density of 15-20 per square mile is needed to allow regeneration in a healthy, diverse forest that supports native vegetation and wildlife, including deer. The National Park Service uses an adaptive management approach that is flexible based on how deer and vegetation populations respond.
During Deer Management
Extensive safety measures are in place to protect park visitors and neighbors during operations. Biologists, who are also highly-trained firearms experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, work under the direction of National Park Service resource management specialists, in coordination with U.S. Park Police and local law enforcement, to conduct reduction actions at night when the park is normally closed.
News ReleasesRock Creek Park announces 2019-2020 dates for annual deer management operations (November 2019)
National Parks in Maryland, Virginia and DC provide more than 75,000 meals to neighbors with donated venison (April 2019)
Rock Creek Park announces 2018-2019 dates for annual deer management operations (November 2018)
National Parks in Maryland and DC Provide More Than 50,000 Meals to Neighbors with Donated Venison (April 2018)
Rock Creek Park Announces Dates for Annual Deer Management Operations (November 2017)
National Park Service donates 1,300 pounds of venison to local nonprofit (December 2016)
Rock Creek Park announces deer management window of action (November 2016)
National Park Service donates 700 pounds of venison to DC Central Kitchen (December 2015)
Rock Creek Park Completes Deer Management Operations for the Year (December 2015)
Rock Creek Park Announces Upcoming Deer Management Window of Action (December 2014)
Frequently Asked Questions
To carry out the Rock Creek Park White-tailed Deer Management Plan, temporary night-time road closures will be in effect to provide for visitor and employee safety during reduction activities. Commuters, including cyclists, are advised to plan alternate routes.This year’s operations window runs from November 20, 2019 to March 31, 2020.
The following roads will remain open at all times:
Temporary road closures from 5:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. may include:
* Horse Stable Road NW.
* Ross Drive NW.
* Ridge Road NW, south of Grant Road NW.
* Glover Road NW, south of the Rock Creek Park Horse Center.
Temporary road closures from 6:45 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. may include:
* Beach Drive NW, from Joyce Road NW to Wise Road NW.
* Beach Drive NW, from West Beach Drive NW to the Maryland/District of Columbia boundary.
* Sherrill Drive NW.
* Beach Drive between Broad Branch Road NW and Joyce Road NW.
* Beach Drive between Wise Road NW and West Beach Drive NW.
* Wise Road NW.
* Ridge Road NW.
* Glover Road NW.
* Grant Road NW.
* Joyce Road NW.
* Morrow Drive NW.
* West Beach Drive NW at Parkside Drive NW.
* Stage Road NW.
An overabundant white-tailed deer population is damaging the forest in Rock Creek Park. To address this situation, the National Park Service (NPS) has developed a deer management strategy that supports long-term protection, preservation, and restoration of native vegetation and cultural landscapes.
When proposing a management action of this scope, the National Park Service must follow the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). This law requires all federal agencies to: (1) prepare in-depth studies of the impacts of, and alternatives to, a proposed major federal action; (2) use the information developed from these studies to decide whether to proceed with the action; and (3) diligently attempt to involve the interested and affected public before any decision affecting the environment is made.
Deer eat a wide variety of items, including tree and shrub seedlings. In a self-sustaining forest of this age (about 125 years), there would be a wide range of native trees in all stages of life, from seedling to sapling to mature. There also would be an understory layer of herbaceous (non-woody) plants, including a variety of wildflowers, and native shrubs. At Rock Creek Park, this vital mix is missing. The population of deer is now so great that it has compromised the ability of native forests to regenerate.
In addition, over the past 20 years, the increased deer population has caused detrimental changes in the species composition, structure, abundance, and distribution of native plant communities and their associated wildlife. Deer now are so dominant in the environment that they have decreased the habitat for other species.
Yes. The National Park Service fully evaluated the advantages, disadvantages, effectiveness, and costs of using reproductive control as part of two deer management alternatives: Alternative B (Combined Non-lethal Actions) and Alternative D (Combined Lethal and Nonlethal Actions). Alternative D is the preferred alternative.
Under Alternative D, if a chemical reproductive control method is available that meets the criteria set forth in the FEIS, reproductive control would be implemented when the target deer population level has been achieved.
For a reproductive control to meet FEIS criteria it must:
* Be federally approved for application to free ranging populations
* Provide multi-year efficacy (3-5yrs.)
* Be administered by remote injection
* Would leave no residue in meat
* Leads to acceptable reductions and does not cause changes in deer behavior
If an acceptable reproductive control method is not available or is ineffective, the park would continue lethal control methods to maintain the deer population at the level that permits forest regeneration. Appendix C of the FEIS provides a comprehensive scientific overview of the status of reproductive control. This appendix has been reviewed by wildlife reproductive science experts. National Park Service staff revised and updated information on reproductive control in the FEIS based on their comments.
Public hunting is not authorized in the 1890 legislation that established the park nor by any subsequent law, policies, and regulations.
Deer population density surveys conducted by park staff in the fall of 2018 determined that there were 39 deer per square mile in Rock Creek Park.
Once deer population density reaches 15-20 per square mile, the park will continue to work to maintain deer numbers at that level. Ultimately, the goal is to manage for successful forest regeneration within the park, not for deer density.
Park service staff will continue monitoring and assessing the park’s vegetation as the deer management plan progresses, and will make modifications to the plan to help ensure that sustainable forest regeneration is achieved.
The National Park Service plans to conduct deer management actions in the main section of Rock Creek Park from the National Zoo north to the District of Columbia/Maryland boundary between Oregon Avenue, NW and 16th Street, NW to maintain target population levels in the main section of Rock Creek Park. The National Park Service also may extend deer management action to additional areas managed by Rock Creek Park — such as Melvin Hazen Park, Soapstone Valley Park, Pinehurst Parkway, and other tributary parks, as well as, Glover Archbold Park, Battery Kemble Park and Fort Totten Park — to reduce deer populations.
The National Park Service’s goal is to coordinate our efforts with other jurisdictions and agencies so they will be as effective as possible. Deer overpopulation is an issue shared by communities throughout the metropolitan area. A regional response is essential to the success of this plan. This response is already occurring in Montgomery County, Maryland, where local park authorities are conducting deer management sharpshooting in the areas north of Rock Creek Park’s District of Columbia/Maryland boundary.
Yes. The National Park Service has worked with District of Columbia Department of Health, the Department of Energy and Environment, and the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission to develop this management plan. The park will continue to coordinate with these agencies as needed in the future.
All the actions the National Park Service is considering will have an adaptive management approach, which provides flexibility to adjust to changing conditions. Park staff will continue monitoring and assessing the park’s vegetation as the deer management plan progresses, and will make modifications to the plan to help ensure that forest regeneration is achieved.
The meat will be donated to local food banks and other organizations, consistent with National Park Service public health guidelines. As a result of the management operations to date, approximately 15,000 pounds of venison has been donated by the National Park Service to D.C. Central Kitchen. D.C. Central Kitchen is a non-profit organization that distributes prepared meals to homeless shelters and other facilities in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.
In 2007, the National Park Service completed work on a general management plan (GMP) for Rock Creek Park. During the planning process for the GMP, the public made clear that they value preservation of the park’s natural resources as highly as its cultural resources.
As the area around Rock Creek Park becomes more developed, the park is increasingly important as a refuge for plants and wildlife. It’s critical – as well as required by National Park Service management policies – that the natural resources which sustain the park’s wildlife be protected. In addition, although the park is indeed part of an urban environment, natural processes still occur in the park. Tree regeneration is one of these natural processes and is necessary to sustain the forest into the future.
Data from vegetation monitoring plots in the park clearly demonstrates that high deer population density is limiting the growth and maturation of the park’s forests. This conclusion has been mirrored in extensive research that has been conducted on the effects of overabundant deer populations in other areas of the country. Young trees and shrubs in Rock Creek Park not protected by fencing can grow to only a few inches tall before being eaten by deer and other herbivores. Restoration of the park’s forest will take place when the deer browsing pressure is reduced to the point at which forests can regenerate.
The park’s top priority is the safety of park visitors, neighbors, and staff. Extensive safety measures will be put into place to ensure a safe, humane, and successful operation. It is critical to public safety that only qualified and experienced personnel conduct all lethal activities. Therefore, the NPS will work with specially trained biologists from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services branch (USDA WS). The USDA WS has a long history of conducting safe and effective actions to reduce wildlife populations, including the reduction of deer populations using firearms and other lethal methods, at multiple locations in the Washington metropolitan area and other populated areas nationwide. To further improve safety, the National Park Service will:
* Conduct lethal reduction activities from November through March and after dark, when the park is closed;
* Conduct all activities involving firearms in compliance with federal firearm laws administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives;
* Use bait to attract deer into safe locations for removal that will be approved by NPS personnel and will be located away from public areas;
* Prohibit lethal reduction activities from taking place within established safety zones along the park boundary, open roadways, and occupied buildings;
* Conduct shooting actions from an elevated position – for example, an elevated position such as a hilltop or truck bed -- and with earthen backstops when possible;
* Use specialized ammunition that minimizes the travel range of the bullet and that does not contain lead; and
* Position NPS and United States Park Police personnel to patrol the park during removal actions to ensure compliance with park closures and public safety measures and to provide field expertise to accompanying USDA WS teams, among other actions.
The National Park Service’s top priority is safety. To make this action as safe as possible for park visitors, neighbors, staff, and motorists, the National Park Service will share specific information on these actions with local law enforcement and other state and local officials to ensure coordination. The details of implementation -- including what, when, and where actions on the ground will take place -- will not be provided to the public. National Park Service staff will work closely with local and state officials to implement a comprehensive communications strategy that ensures public safety.
The management plan is designed to bring the deer population to a level that allows the park’s forests to regenerate. White-tailed deer are part of the ecosystem, and future generations of park visitors will continue to have the opportunity to see deer in the park.
Several other national parks are actively managing deer including: Gettysburg National Military Park (Pa.), Catoctin Mountain Park (Md.), Antietam National Battlefield (Md.), Monocacy National Battlefield (Md.), Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (DC, Md., W.Va.), Manassas National Battlefield Park (Va.), Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Ind.), and Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pa.).
Catoctin has actively worked to reduce deer populations since 2010 and has seen a more than 11-fold increase in tree seedling density.
Rock Creek Park will issue press releases to announce management actions and post this information on the park’s website (http://www.nps.gov/rocr). Information also can be obtained by contacting the park’s deer management information line at 202-895-6009.
Last updated: January 31, 2020