Hunt has removed 123 deer

But roadway collisions have killed many more in the county


Howard County's hunting program to reduce the deer population in four parks has removed 123 animals since October, with 13 days left in the hunt, which runs through February.

But roadway collisions with deer kill many more of the animals, officials said - 1,174 last year and 1,014 this year in Howard, according to county and state figures. Last year at this time, county-approved hunters had killed 176 deer in county parks, including two bucks weighing more than 200 pounds each.

County Executive James N. Robey authorized resumption of hunting in 1999 after a one-year pause to study the situation. He contends that hunting helps cut the overpopulation that has pushed animals onto roadways and suburban lawns and streets, where the spread of Lyme disease is another danger.

Though the hunt has been harshly criticized, county hunt organizer Philip C. Norman said he has seen improvements in vegetation in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and other county parks where hunts have taken place since 1998 as a way of preventing animals from damaging plants.

"It's an effective management tool and accepted by most communities," Norman said. "We have studies showing a clear improvement in vegetative diversity, ground cover and shrub layers."

But, Ann Selnick, president of the county chapter of Animal Advocates, said, "Hunting does not control deer populations" because a reduction in one place will draw deer from surrounding areas.

Selnick said the county has not tried hard enough to use nonlethal means of controlling deer. The county's true intention, Selnick said, is to perpetuate the sport of hunting.

Norman, however, said his job is to control deer in county parks. Bow hunters are used in Blandair Park in east Columbia, which is closer to homes. He said 33 deer have been killed there, 52 at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and 18 at the Alpha Ridge Park in the western county - including one shot on the nearby landfill by Norman - and 20 were killed in David Force Park in Marriottsville.

Garry Dabbs, 60, a retired federal worker who participated in three hunts at MPEA this year, said he killed six deer and gave the meat away.

"I enjoy it. I enjoy the camaraderie and the way the hunt is conducted," Dabbs said, noting that strict safety precautions are taken.

The county screens and pre-qualifies hunters before they can participate, requires them to be at least 10 feet off the ground to keep any shots aimed downward, and requires them to kill a female before taking a male.

Dabbs said the hunt "is a tool for them to keep their parks thinned out," and also protects people who live on the fringes by drawing animals back into undeveloped land.

Norman said 76 of the deer taken this year were female, and 47 were male. Since the hunts in county parks began, Norman said, 1,263 deer have been removed.

Statewide, hunters killed 44,941 deer during the annual two-week firearms hunting season after Thanksgiving, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

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