White Tailed Deer Management

Deer Management 2016-2017

The NPS must balance the needs of all the animals and plants in Rock Creek Park. A consistent deer population density of 15-20 per square mile is needed for a healthy, diverse forest that supports native vegetation and wildlife, including deer. Since 2013, the NPS has reduced the park’s deer population from nearly 80 per square mile to an estimated 19 per square mile. The NPS uses an adaptive management approach that is flexible based on how deer and vegetation populations respond. Although the desired density for deer may be achieved fairly quickly, it could take six or more years for tree seedling densities to reach a level necessary for the forest to sustain itself.

Without continued management, deer populations would quickly rebound and again eat nearly all tree seedlings and other plants before they could grow. Scientists continue to monitor response of park vegetation to fewer deer, which will help inform future deer management practices.

After reduction operations, the National Park Service tests the deer to make sure they don't have Chronic Wasting Disease before the venison is donated to local food banks. The NPS has donated approximately 7,300 pounds of venison to DC Central Kitchen since beginning deer management in 2013.

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 NPS resource management specialists and in coordination with U.S. Park Police and local law enforcement to conduct reduction actions at night when the park is normally closed.

During deer management operations, 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.


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.

Over the past 20 years, an overabundant white-tailed deer population has negatively impacted Rock Creek Park. Prompted by a marked decline in forest regeneration, Rock Creek Park initiated a public process to create a plan, finalized in 2012, which calls for quickly reducing the density of deer to support long-term protection and restoration of native plants and to promote a healthy and diverse forest.

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 NPS management policies – that the natural resources which sustain the park’s wildlife be protected.


Last updated: December 21, 2016

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Mailing Address:

3545 Williamsburg Lane, NW
Washington, DC 20008


(202) 895-6000
Rock Creek Park administrative offices can be reached at 202-895-6000. For general information call 202-895-6070 Wednesday - Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and dial 0.

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