National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for Catoctin Mountain Park

Resource Brief – White-tailed Deer and Native Seedling Regeneration

White-tailed deer in Catoctin Mountain Park
White-tailed deer in Catoctin Mountain Park

Extremely rare at the turn of the 20th century, white-tailed deer populations in Maryland have not only rebounded, but now number more than at any other time in their history. Deer have adapted to landscape-level changes such as alteration and changing land use patterns associated with suburban development (Maryland Department of Natural Resources [MDNR] 1998). Deer thrive on habitat conditions created by suburban development, as new roads, housing, and related enterprises fragment forests and farms, creating "edge" habitat that provides plenty of food. Protection and shelter are found in landscapes such as Catoctin where hunting is prohibited. Increases in agricultural productivity have also increased availability of nutritious foods for deer. Concurrently, habitat fragmentation, along with changing social habits (the number of hunters has steadily decreased since the 1980s), have resulted in reduced hunting pressure, particularly in Maryland's growing suburban areas (MDNR 1998).

When Catoctin Mountain Park was established in 1936, it is likely that no white-tailed deer existed within its boundaries. In the 1970s problems related to an overabundance of deer were suspected. Park staff first raised the issue of adverse impacts from deer browsing in the early 1980s because it could cause a long-term decline in both the abundance and diversity of native plant species. The park's 1988 Resource Management Plan mentions concerns about the potential loss of long-term forest regeneration, changes in water quality that might arise from the loss of vegetation, and the potential transmission of disease and parasites from deer to humans.

Through the 1990s park staff conducted a number of monitoring studies to document the size of the deer population, as well as plant growth occurring in the understory of the mature forest canopy. Generally, data collected by park staff and researchers indicated that forest regeneration was nearly absent within the majority of the park, due in large part to high deer numbers. Park staff has coordinated with several technical experts and researchers to develop methods and protocols for monitoring deer population size and forest regeneration within the park. As a result, it was determined that the park's current deer management plan needed to be revised.


Catoctin deer population, 2000–2011.
Catoctin deer population, 2000–2011.
Catoctin seedling density.
Catoctin seedling density.




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