Baltimore city and county officials have talked for years about thinning the population of deer in Loch Raven Reservoir by allowing hunting. Now, they say, they only need to work out the details of a managed hunt this fall, such as whether to extend the invitation to bowhunters and sharpshooters.
"As stewards of the reservoir, it's our job to make sure that the forest can regenerate," said Kurt Kocher, a city public works spokesman. "That's not going to happen with the current deer population. ... We know this is effective."
But some animal-rights advocates disagree and are hoping to prevent hunting in the city-owned, 8.75-square mile watershed in Baltimore County.
"Loch Raven Reservoir is supposed to be a sanctuary," said Gerda Deterer, president of Wildlife Rescue, a nonprofit group based in Carroll County. "The thought of it becoming a killing field is not palatable."
She and other activists say the city and county officials should consider such alternatives as covering young saplings with wire so that deer can't eat them and that there have been advancements in birth control for does. They also say that studies and data collected about the deer population are incomplete and outdated.
In 2005, Baltimore City and Baltimore and Carroll counties agreed to allow a controlled hunt in Loch Raven. But faced with opposition, the hunting never took place.
Enid Feinberg, who formed a group that helped lead the successful fight against the hunting three years ago, said that a biologist who studied the problem found that the most damage in the forest is caused by illegal mountain-biking.
Officials say that too many deer cause the most damage to young trees in the Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy reservoir areas, which provide drinking water for much of the region. When the younger saplings are eaten by deer, there is less vegetation to prevent runoff into the reservoirs, the officials say.
"It's a very serious problem for the watershed," said John Markley, a manager at Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. "The state DNR and other jurisdictions in Maryland have found the only really effective way to manage overpopulation of deer is through lethal means."
Bowhunting is permitted in the Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs, and farmers with permits are allowed to hunt on their properties. For Loch Raven, officials are considering hiring sharpshooters to thin the herd.
"If you've been to the Loch Raven Reservoir, you've seen the browse line of the deer ... and nothing on the ground," Markley said.
Markley said the county would schedule public meetings about the hunt in late August to share information and receive input before the ban on hunting in Loch Raven is lifted.
He also said more studies will be done to get the most accurate count of deer in the reservoir. A survey of a small portion of the Loch Raven Reservoir done from a police helicopter in March showed about 81 deer per square mile, Markley said.
More than 10 deer per square mile has been shown to be harmful to forests, he said.
Officials also point to the number of deer involved in car accidents as an indicator of the population. They say that between 2003 and this year, about 8,500 deer killed by vehicles have been removed from county roads.
When the county installed reflectors along Dulaney Valley Road a year ago, it reduced the number of accidents involving deer by 90 percent, said Feinberg, whose group is now called DeerSolutionsMd.com.
"It shows that there are nonlethal solutions, and that they work," Feinberg said. "They won't work, if you don't use them."