Columbia deer hunts may begin Dec. 1 Details being finished

Howard County to reveal plans Monday

November 07, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Columbia's deer better enjoy their Thanksgiving holiday. The days of easy suburban living -- with no predators save for cars and trucks -- are about over.

Deer hunts likely will start Dec. 1 in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, a 630-acre wooded tract in west Columbia, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday. County parks officials have called a news conference for Monday to announce details.

In recent months, the officials had feared that Columbia residents would reject hunting for ethical and safety reasons. But at an Oct. 15 public hearing, only five residents spoke against the proposal, and not all were from Howard County. Five people spoke for the hunts.

"It was a pleasant surprise," Ecker said. "Our options are limited, and I think the public realizes that. The natural predators of the deer are not here anymore."

Enter the hunters.

They are expected to be in the woods from Dec. 1 to 19. Additional hunts are likely from Jan. 5 to 16. Only 10 hunters will be allowed at a time, and they will hunt only during weekday mornings.

Ecker and his staff had studied sterilization, relocation, fencing and other options to control the rapidly growing deer population. They determined the alternatives to be too expensive, not effective or both.

Meanwhile, inside the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, the growing deer herd continues to destroy habitat for birds and small animals. Outside the park, deer eat expensive shrubbery, get hit by cars and are believed to be spreading Lyme disease.

No estimate of Howard's deer population is available, but state officials say cars hit more than 300 deer each year in the county. Ecker said he would like to remove "as many as we can" from the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.

The deer population in Maryland is estimated to be at least 250,000 -- and has more than doubled in five years, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Ecker said the county will be "overly cautious" with the hunts.

The hunts would not be held during Christmas vacation for public schools -- thus lessening the risk of children walking through the woods.

Officials are developing final rules for the hunts. As they stand, a 300-yard buffer is planned between hunters and houses along the park's western edge at the 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.

Hunters would be required to use shotguns. They would fire slugs, not buckshot, and be required to shoot from tree stands. If they missed, the theory goes, stray slugs would drive harmlessly into the ground. Bows would not be allowed.

Hunters would be expected to track wounded deer. If they track deer to the border of the park, they would have to inform the hunt coordinator.

The hunters could follow the deer onto private property, but would have to have the property owner's permission before shooting again.

Ecker said that if the hunts prove successful, he would like to try them elsewhere in the county.

One of his top aides mentioned two possible sites yesterday: a landfill in Marriottsville and a landfill along New Cut Road in Ellicott City.

Interested hunters may call the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks at 410-313-4700.

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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