Howard officials seek 3 deer hunts Patuxent area survey finds rapidly growing population

September 30, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

The rapidly growing deer population in Columbia and the subsequent effects on vegetation have prompted a call for another managed hunt in Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.

In a survey last month of the 4.17-square-mile area, Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks found 106 deer per square mile, more than three times what the agency considers sustainable.

"Our primary concern is the ecosystem," said Jeff Duguay, natural resources manager for Middle Patuxent. "They are eating everything that is out there is basically what it boils down to."

Duguay said deer threaten 45 species of birds, eat shrubs and crops, and carry ticks that transmit Lyme disease.

The concerns prompted John Byrd, the county's chief of parks and programming services, to write a letter Sept. 22 to County Executive Charles I. Ecker requesting the deer hunt.

Ecker -- who is out of town until tomorrow -- said through a spokesman yesterday he has not made a decision, but plans to '' review the proposal after his return.

The plan called for two-week hunting sessions beginning Oct. 12, Nov. 2 and Jan. 4.

Byrd hopes 50 hunters will shoot about 140 deer.

"The property is large enough that it lends itself as a hunting area from a safety perspective," Byrd said. "The residents there have pushed for it."

Last year, 26 hunters killed 65 deer in a two-week managed hunt.

In Maryland, the deer population is estimated at about 300,000 and has more than doubled in the past five years, said the state Department of Natural Resources. No estimate of Howard County's deer population was available.

The deer population is part of a countywide problem. Many community residents and farmers complain that deer eat shrubs and crops -- particularly on properties near developments -- and jump in front of vehicles.

State officials say more than 300 deer in Howard are hit each year by cars.

Marion Harless of West Friendship, who has been farming for 64 years, said deer have eaten about 25 percent of his crops this year, mainly corn and soybeans.

"If someone came into your refrigerator and ate all your food, you wouldn't like it," said Harless, who owns 1,300 acres. "The problem is, the crop they destroy puts food into our refrigerator."

Byrd said the hunt he proposes is similar to last year's. Applicants would be interviewed and required to follow strict regulations, including having a state hunting license, a state shooter's qualification card and a hunter safety card. Hunters would be required to kill two does before shooting a buck.

Duguay said the hunt is necessary because does frequently produce twins and because of the changing wildlife habitat. "Deer essentially are being forced into smaller communities because of development," he said. "We've eliminated natural resources," such as cougars and wolves, that could control the population.

Not everyone agrees with the proposal, especially Animal Advocates of Howard County. The members favor nonlethal methods such as fencing, sterilization and reflectors along highways.

"I believe managed deer hunting is tantamount to institutional animal abuse," said Martha Gagnon, the group's president. "Somebody has done a really good job of spreading this propaganda against deer."

Last year, Ecker and his staff studied sterilization, relocation, fencing and other options to control the deer population, but they decided the alternatives were too expensive, not effective or both.

Byrd said the problem could make the deer hunt an annual event. But for the county's 275 farmers, it might not be enough.

"Our survey found that farmers lost about 20 percent of their crops because of the deer," said Ron Cashdollar, president of the county Farm Bureau. "It gets worse every year. The only solution is less deer."

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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