Loch Raven in balance

Our view : Proposed thinning of white-tailed deer herds inundating Baltimore reservoir is necessary to protect the region's water supply - and, ultimately, a humane strategy

August 27, 2008

The abundance of deer around Baltimore's Loch Raven Reservoir is no mere nuisance. It has damaged the forest, wiping out habitat for other species and threatening the region's drinking water supply. Under those circumstances, limited hunting on the city-owned property is not only a reasonable but also an overdue decision.

Authorities in Baltimore and Baltimore County plan to allow seasonal bowhunting on the northern portions of Loch Raven beginning in mid-September and then employ licensed professional deer hunters to conduct a closely supervised and targeted harvest of animals in the southern areas early next year.

Bowhunting has been permitted at the city's Prettyboy and Liberty reservoirs for more than three decades to keep deer herds in check. By using professional marksmen (as local farmers with excess deer often do) to cull the herd in the winter, officials expect to have fewer conflicts with hikers, bikers and others who use the reservoir for recreation.

That there are too many deer around Loch Raven isn't in dispute. Surveys suggest there are from 40 to 90 deer in each of the watershed's 8 1/2 square miles. A suitable population would be 10 to 20 animals. The result has been a drastic loss in seedlings and other undergrowth.

That has proved costly for a variety of species, but it also has endangered the water supply. As older trees die, saplings aren't available to replace them. Erosion and sedimentation worsens. Officials calculate that the 20 billion-gallon reservoir has lost about 10 percent of its capacity over the years.

Hunger has driven deer into nearby roads and neighborhoods in search of food. Deer-involved car crashes are now four times more likely to take place around the watershed than anywhere else in the county.

Animal rights groups are likely to protest the decision at a public meeting tomorrow night at Loch Raven High School, but alternatives such as relocating animals or fencing 8,000 acres of underbrush are all highly impractical and costly.

Deer are numerous largely because natural predators are scarce; hunting is a humane way of putting an important ecosystem back in balance.

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