Helicopter survey taken at night shows deer population in Howard has exploded Hunt to thin out herd likely to come in fall

July 28, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

An infrared survey of heavily wooded areas in Howard County shows there are three times as many deer as is ecologically healthy.

Results of the March count, released last week, found between 41 and 118 deer per square mile in the 7,500 park acres surveyed.

On about 1,900 acres of the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in Clarksville, off Route 108 -- where almost 50 deer were killed last winter in the county's first managed hunt -- the study found large herds: 106 deer per square mile.

The $7,500 study done by a private Wisconsin company also looked at several other areas, including Schooley Mill Park, near Clarksville, Rockburn Branch Park, in Ellicott City, and the Gorman Area, outside Columbia.

Using a system known as FLIR -- forward-looking infrared light -- environmentalists flew a helicopter over wooded areas at night and recorded deer with a video camera. Having a tape of the deer allows for a general count of a herd.

"For large areas, this is the only feasible way to get a count of deer because they are constantly on the move," said Jeff Duguay, who manages the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.

In the Middle Patuxent area, Duguay said, the bark and leaves of small oak and hickory trees -- favorites of deer -- are often nibbled and destroyed. But plants such as spice bush, which deer do not like to eat, are often abundant.

Next year, parks officials said, they hope to reduce the herd in the Middle Patuxent area by 140 deer. A hunt may be held in October or November, rather than February, and it may be spread out with a two-week break between hunts.

"We expected the study would show there were high numbers of deer out there," said John Byrd, Howard's chief of parks and program services. "The ecology and vegetation damage show that and [the study] corroborates that."

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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