152 deer killed by hunters in Howard County parks

Parkland managers, farmers cheer result

December 26, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County hunters have killed 152 deer from five county parks this fall, including 31 from Blandair Park in central Columbia, where the hunt is crucial to growing crops, farmer Mike Mullinix said.

"It's probably the difference between us farming it and not farming it," Mullinix said of the fields along Route 175 that he rents to grow corn. During the summer, he said, the deer are so bold that "they graze like cattle," even during the day while he's working.

Deer ate 25 percent of his crop, meaning he just broke even - all too common in farming, he said. Only bow hunting is allowed in the park, which is near homes.

Animal lovers weren't impressed, however.

"With the addition of bow hunting and crossbow hunting, we are convinced now more than ever the county is catering to people who hunt purely for pleasure. Our group will never understand how people can derive any enjoyment out of killing a living creature," said Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County.

Joe Webster of Bethesda, a veteran hunter who has participated in all the Howard hunts in the past six years, said he hasn't killed a deer in Howard County this fall, but still enjoys being in nature. "I didn't get a one. I saw lots but couldn't get a proper shot," he said.

Webster enjoys hunting, he said, but it takes dedication and a high tolerance for discomfort. "You've got to get out before sunup, be up a tree and sit there until 11 a.m. That takes an unusual person, just to prove he wants to outwit a deer's eyes, ears and nose, and we call it fun," he said.

Phil Norman, deer hunting project director for Howard's Department of Recreation and Parks, said the hunt has been more successful this year because the county is using more parks and it spread out the hunting days to keep the animals from becoming hunt-wary. The biggest benefit, he said, is to the parkland.

"We've never tried to look at our management in the parks as the solution for the deer problem countywide. Our concern is the natural ecosystem in the parks themselves," Norman said.

By eating blueberries, oak and red cedar tree seedlings, wildflowers, lilies, fruit and nuts, too many deer have killed select low plants and young trees across hundreds of acres of land, which in turn prevents natural reforestation and forces some birds and small animals to leave, he said.

"By the late 1990s, you couldn't see a blueberry bush in there [Middle Patuxent Environmental Area]," Norman said. "A number of the invasives [plants] have been able to invade even more because of deer browsing" that destroys native plants.

Since October, 59 deer have been killed at Middle Patuxent, 28 at David Force Park near Marriottsville, 25 at Alpha Ridge Park and nine at High Ridge Park along the Patuxent River. Norman said the 152 total is 61 more deer than were killed in the same period last year, even though hunting and scores of animals killed in collisions with vehicles have diminished herds in the parks.

Statewide, Maryland hunters killed 42,166 deer in the two-week firearm season, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Locally, however, many more deer are killed in highway accidents than by hunters. In Howard County, 3,170 deer have been killed on county-maintained roads since January 1997, Norman said. That includes 459 this year through last month. On state highways and county roads, an average 913 deer are killed in Howard road accidents yearly, Norman said.

"The impact that an overabundant deer herd can have can take decades to correct because they are removing not only the seedlings but also the seed crop, acorns and fruit," he added.

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