As deer threaten to overrun the Soldiers Delight nature area, state officials call on archers

some worry about safety, cruelty

Hunt planned in preserve


The beauty of the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area is, as the sign proclaims, "enhanced by rare plants and animals." But one breed of animal is overrunning the refuge and devouring the unusual plants, and state wildlife officials say there is only one way to solve the problem.

They want bowhunters to thin the deer population.

"A few deer is a few deer too many if they get to those plant species and wipe them out," said Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources. "The impact of another species - in this case the white-tailed deer - requires a response on our part. To do otherwise would be ecologically irresponsible."

The proposal for what would be the latest in a series of controlled deer hunts in Central Maryland is scheduled to be described at a hearing tonight in Owings Mills. But even as wildlife managers say they have no alternative but to schedule a hunt, some who live near Soldiers Delight say the deer population should be controlled through contraceptives or other methods short of killing.

"The truth of the matter is they were here before we were," said Bob Coufal, who has lived on Wards Chapel Road for 35 years.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at New Town High School, 124 Tollgate Road.

The 1,900 acres that make up Soldiers Delight include the largest remaining serpentine barren in the eastern United States, and the area harbors the largest number of rare, threatened or endangered plant species in Maryland, Peditto said.

The barren, named after a form of bedrock, is made up of a low-nutrient, highly metallic soil in which few plants can survive. DNR has worked to protect grassland plant species such as sandplain gerardia, a pink-blossomed member of the figwort family, which has been federally protected since 1988. In November, state and federal fire crews burned 42 acres of grasslands to restore habitat for the endangered plant.

Two hunting areas would be established at Soldiers Delight. Up to 20 archers could hunt with permits from Sept. 15 to Jan. 31 in the first area, about 400 acres west of Wards Chapel Road.

Hunters would not be allowed until Nov. 11 into a second 300-acre area south of the visitors center and west of Deer Park Road because of sensitive plant populations, according to the proposal. Up to 15 bowhunters per day would be allowed in that region, south of the Serpentine Trail, from Nov. 11 until Jan. 31 - the last day of white-tailed deer bow season.

Peditto said although some oppose the proposal for reasons such as safety to visitors and neighbors, the public input led them to believe that most support reducing the deer herd by hunting, and they preferred bows to firearms.

"We looked hard at all other options," he said. "There are no other alternatives to manage the large population of deer."

Peditto said most of the people who oppose the plan "just don't understand what it means to have managed hunting." It would be irresponsible to hire hunters, he said, because at $200 per deer it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to reduce the herd.

The decision for Soldiers Delight was made as part of a comprehensive review that examined all DNR-managed parcels that had abundant deer populations, Peditto said. He added that the measures taken with Soldiers' Delight were "completely consistent" with those in other areas.

Officials in Montgomery and Howard counties have authorized managed hunts to reduce deer populations.

Howard County officials have conducted controlled deer hunts in undeveloped county parks for the past seven years. In recent years, the hunts have been expanded to parkland in the heart of Columbia, where bowhunters were used to minimize risks, and to the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill, where certified sharpshooters were used to cull the herds. No injuries or accidents have been reported.

Baltimore County officials are also gathering information to determine how to control deer at the Prettyboy and Liberty Road reservoirs, said David A. C. Carroll, director of the county department of environmental protection and resource management. They're consulting officials in other counties and counting where deer are killed in automobile accidents.

Contraceptives are very labor- intensive and haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, he said.

Penny Seymore, 69, lives on Deer Park Road and favors the proposal for a hunt at Soldiers Delight. She pointed to her half-eaten hollyhock. "It's been terrible," she said. "Every year it gets worse."

Some Owings Mills residents don't agree.

Seva Burns, who lives on Ward Chapel Road, said she thought bow hunting is inhumane. Also, she played down concerns about rare plants.

"Oh, big deal. The animals were made to eat the plants," Burns said.

Coufal, the longtime Wards Chapel Road resident, agrees that there are too many deer but favors contraception or using professional hunters.

Many of the respondents opposing the plan in an online public forum said they were concerned because they walk their dogs or watch birds there.

But Soldiers Delight is not a park, even though many people use it as one, said Laura H. Van Scoyoc, president of Soldiers Delight Conservation Inc., a restoration and education group. "The fact that people are allowed to hike there is more a courtesy and a favor," she said. "It's protected for different reasons than for human recreation."

Sun reporter Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

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