White-Tailed Deer Management

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. In the last decade their numbers peaked at nearly 100 per square mile.

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

 

Deer Management 2020 - 2021

The National Park Service must balance the needs of all animals and plants in Rock Creek Park. Research has shown that vegetation damage occurs when deer populations exceed 20 per square mile. Reducing the deer population 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.

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

During the fall and winter of 2020-2021, the NPS plans to reduce deer populations in Rock Creek Park, and for the first time will include other areas under Rock Creek Park's management. These areas could include: Barnard Hill; Battery Kemble; Beach Parkway; Dumbarton Oaks Park; Fort Bayard; Fort Bunker Hill; Fort Reno; Fort Slocum; Fort Stevens; Fort Totten; Little Forest; Glover-Archbold Park; Klingle Valley; Melvin C. Hazen Park; Montrose Park; National Zoological Park Entrance at Harvard St NW; Normanstone Parkway; North Portal Parkway; Park - Garfield St, between Fulton St & Foxhall Rd NW (parkland adjacent to Foxhall Road between Fulton St NW & Edmunds St NW); Park - North side of National Zoological Park & Adams Mill Rd NW (north side of Zoo, west of Porter St, NW); Pinehurst Parkway; Piney Branch Portal; Potomac Palisades Parkway from Key Bridge to Chain Bridge, NW; Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway; Rock Creek Park; Soapstone Valley Park; Whitehaven Parkway; and Woodley Park.

As a reminder, Rock Creek Park is closed daily from sunset to sunrise all year round This includes all trails and most park facilities.

During Deer Management

Extensive safety measures will be in place to protect park visitors, neighbors, and staff during operations. We ensure safety by:

  • using biologists who are highly trained firearms experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • working at night when parks are closed

  • working away from populated areas and with safety buffers of at least 300 feet from a park boundary

  • temporarily closing roads
  • enforcing nighttime trails closures
  • working with US Park Police and MPD

  • coordinating with other law enforcement agencies

  • posting signs on closed trails/roads and bulletin boards

  • stationing personnel at closures

  • using infrared heat scanners and night vision goggles to identify deer

  • using elevated positions to provide downward angled shots

  • always shooting toward the interior of the park

  • using special non-lead ammunition with a shorter travel distance

  • using noise suppression on weapons

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.

 
 
 

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 16, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

The following roads will remain open at all times:
  • Piney Branch Parkway.
  • Broad Branch Road.
Roads to be temporarily closed during operations:

Bingham Drive NW, which is closed to vehicle traffic for a sewer rehabilitation project, will remain closed. 

The NPS may temporarily close the following roads between 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. to conduct deer management operations:

  • Horse Stable Road 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 a.m. may include:

  • 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.
  • Beach Drive between Joyce Road NW and Picnic Grove 10.

The following roads are temporarily closed to motor vehicles until the beginning of Phase Four of the DC Mayor's COVID-19 Reopening Plan. These areas may also close to pedestrians, bicyclists and non-motorized recreation from 6:45 p.m. to 4 a.m.:

  • Beach Drive from Broad Branch Road NW to Joyce Road NW.

  • Beach Drive from Picnic Grove 10 to Wise Road NW

  • Beach Drive from West Beach Drive NW to the Maryland Boundary.

  • Sherrill Drive NW.

  • Ross Drive 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.
Research has shown that vegetation damage occurs when deer populations exceed 20 per square mile. Park service staff will continue to monitor and assess the park’s vegetation as deer management progresses. Until sustainable forest regeneration is occurring within the park, we will continue to manage deer populations.
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. A full list of areas appears above.
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 16,300 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.

Extensive safety measures will be in place to protect park visitors, neighbors, and staff during operations. We ensure safety by:

  • using biologists who are highly trained firearms experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,

  • working at night when parks are closed,

  • working away from populated areas and with safety buffers of at least 300 feet from a park boundary

  • temporarily closing roads and trails during operations,

  • working with US Park Police and MPD

  • coordinating with other law enforcement agencies

  • posting signs on closed trails/roads and bulletin boards,

  • stationing personnel at closures,

  • using infrared heat scanners and night vision goggles to identify deer,

  • using elevated positions to provide downward angled shots,

  • always shooting toward the interior of the park,

  • using special non-lead ammunition with a shorter travel distance,

  • using noise suppression on weapons

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.

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: November 10, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

5200 Glover Rd, NW
Washington, DC 20015

Phone:

(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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