Solution to deer problem hunted Hearing spurs debate on an issue that divides suburbia

October 16, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

In the crowd was a man wearing a bright orange hunting cap, another sporting a Dale Earnhardt NASCAR T-shirt, the president of Animal Advocates of Howard County and a nurse worried about treating hunting accident victims.

So it came as little surprise they expressed widely differing views at a meeting of the county Department of Recreation and Parks Board last night on a much-talked about proposal that Howard County park managers officially made public: A plan to usher a small group of hunters into a large west Columbia park in two months to cut down a growing and bothersome deer herd.

"I think this program has merit," said Robert Fiscus, 67, wearing the orange hunting cap. "I think I'm a good enough hunter and a safe enough hunter to participate." He grew up in western Pennsylvania but has lived in Columbia for 20 years.

But Martha Gagnon said the herd was a God-given gift that deserved better.

"Why do we want to mow it down and slaughter these animals?" said Gagnon, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County.

The hunt, as proposed, would last from Dec. 1 to Dec. 27 -- about twice as long as the state's shotgun season. Hunters would shoot slugs out of shotguns and be required to shoot from tree stands. If they miss, the theory goes, stray slugs would drive harmlessly into the ground. Bows would not be permitted.

The hunters would have to demonstrate or have demonstrated marksmanship.

Hunts would take place in the center of the 600-plus acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. There would be a 300-yard buffer between hunters and houses along the park's western edge at the Columbia village of River Hill. On the eastern edge of the park -- which borders the villages of Hickory Ridge and Harper's Choice -- the border would be closer to 200 yards but would include the Middle Patuxent River.

Parks officials would lift bag limits and encourage hunters to kill does.

"Our goal here is to reduce the herd as quickly and efficiently as possible," John Byrd, chief of the county's bureau of parks, told about 60 people last night in a government hearing room in east Columbia.

The hunt is not a done deal, but County Executive Charles I. Ecker has said he wants the hunts to start as soon as possible. And he has the ultimate say in the matter, according to parks officials.

The deer herd in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area is destroying habitat for birds and small mammals, according to several area biologists. Just outside the park, deer are eating expensive shrubbery, getting hit by cars and believed to be spreading Lyme disease.

Among Columbia residents, some view deer as a cute and natural addition to suburbia while others dismiss them as "rats with hoofs."

However deer are described, according to the views of about half the crowd last night, they don't deserve to be shot.

Mark Rifkin said the deer were in the area before the recent subdivisions. The deer can't help it if they're drawn to Yuppies' expensive shrubbery.

"The deer says, 'It's a buffet,'" Rifkin said.

In all, 10 members of the crowd spoke. Five against. Five in favor.

Among the supporters was Mark Wilson, who said the hunts are the only way to control the size of the herd. Unchecked, the herd would get so big it might eat all its food and deer would starve.

Wilson suggested the county hold the hunts in January, when less foliage would give cleaner shots and when the deer tend to be bunched together.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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