December 14, 2015
Contact: Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles
WASHINGTON –The National Park Service has concluded deer management operations in Rock Creek Park for the reduction window that runs through March 31, 2016. Biologists who are also highly trained firearms experts removed 26 deer safely and without incident during one night of operations. The NPS will donate all suitable venison to a Washington, D.C. food bank.
Over the last 20 years, this overabundant white-tailed deer population has negatively impacted Rock Creek Park. The large deer herds were damaging vegetation and eating nearly all the tree seedlings, compromising the ability of the Rock Creek Park's forest from sustaining itself. The high number of deer also destroyed smaller trees and shrubs that provide critical habitat for native birds and other wildlife. If deer populations go unmanaged, this wildlife will not have food and shelter.
At its peak, the park's deer population was nearly 100 per square mile. Since 2013, the National Park Service has successfully and safely reduced the park's deer population to an estimated 19 per square mile. A consistent deer population density of 15-20 per square mile is needed for a healthy, diverse forest that supports native vegetation and other wildlife.
The National Park Service uses an adaptive management approach that is flexible based on how deer and vegetation populations respond. Although the desired density for deer can be achieved fairly quickly, it may 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 vegetation seedlings before they could grow. Scientists continue to monitor vegetation response to fewer deer, which will help inform future deer management practices.