Howard enlists bowhunters to thin herds of deer feeding on Columbia farm fields

January 21, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The 140 deer that live on Blandair wander freely on the 300-acre future park in the center of suburban Columbia, even crossing busy Route 175 in bunches, according to hunters who have seen their tracks.

But without natural predators, they have been eating up to 20 percent of the feed corn that farmer Mark Mullinix grows on rented fields on the Blandair property along Oakland Mills Road. So Howard County has applied for a state permit to send in experienced bowhunters to thin the pesky herd.

Robert Yohe, 79, said he has seen deer jump the chain-link fence around his home next to the farm fields, and use a hoof to tip a bird feeder in his back yard to eat the seed. He, and others who live in the area, do not object to the hunt.

"They're not going to shoot close to anyone's house. It's not dangerous," he said.

A growing danger is hitting a deer with a vehicle. The number of deer killed on state and county roads in Howard County totaled 1,005 last year, according to county and state officials.

The growing deer population - with attendant cases of tick-caused Lyme disease - prompted the county to arrange controlled deer hunts in undeveloped areas of David Force Park in West Friendship and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area in River Hill.

Maryland hunters using modern firearms killed 41,469 deer statewide during the two-week hunt after Thanksgiving. In Howard, hunters killed 544 deer, a 28 percent increase, state officials said.

"They're eating us alive," Mullinix said about the deer on the 60 acres he rents from the county south of Route 175. The deer "do 90 percent of their work at night," he said, so he rarely sees any - just what they have wrought.

"Everybody recognizes that there's a huge issue. It's sad. They're everywhere," said Sylvia Ramsay, a resident nearby and a member of the citizens group planning for the conversion of Blandair Farm into a park.

Phil Norman, Howard County deer project manager, said the county is awaiting a crop damage permit from the state to allow the hunt, which will be managed by Marty Hayes, founder of Suburban White Tail Management of Maryland - a group of experienced, highly skilled hunters who hunt on farmland all over Maryland. When the permit is issued, a date for the hunt will be scheduled.

Hunting will take place only when school is in session, and all the hunters are to be shooting from elevated stands and their arrows directed downward.

Norman said the county will allow only bows and arrows because the fields are nearly surrounded by homes.

"Bowhunting is a much less efficient way of harvesting deer based on the amount of effort on the part of the hunters, but safety is extremely high, and it's quiet." Norman said.

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