The Woods Committee has assembled the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in preparation for the Informational Meeting on Deer Population Management in the Washington Grove East and West Woods on June 24, 2019 at 7:00 pm in McCathran Hall. You are strongly encouraged to attend.
How can we blame the deer when humans have destroyed their environment?
Deer are adaptable animals that will seek food and refuge wherever environmental conditions provide them. Urban, suburban and exurban areas are attractive to deer for many reasons. They provide green spaces with plants deer can eat, include plantings around homes and other grounds, and provide protection from harassment by people, dogs (leash laws) and natural predators. State wildlife agencies often manage for abundant deer, a popular game species in many places. Deer first moved from farm and forest into adjacent suburban areas. They have since continued to journey into even more urbanized areas where their needs can be met. Their ability to become habituated to the presence of humans has proved remarkable. Rather than destroying the natural habitat of deer, society has dramatically increased their environment. Deer are edge browsers. As developers have divided forests, the edges have multiplied, providing more prime habitat for deer.
Is deer over browsing a local problem?
Deer populations have increased beyond sustainable levels across the county. Increased habitat modification, loss of natural habitat and a loss of natural large predators have led to an overabundant deer population. Conflicts between white-tailed deer and humans have become a concern of many urban and suburban communities including safety risks associated with deer-vehicle collisions, potential for spread of disease, environmental damage to forests resulting in loss of plant and animal biodiversity and damage to private properties.
Deer feed primarily on ‘browse,’ the tender shoots and buds of young trees and plants. Overabundant deer populations negatively impact the ecosystem by denuding the forest and prevent the ability of forests to naturally regenerate. Our East Woods especially show heavy to severe browse levels on forested habitats and have little or no native vegetation growing below six feet. Very few native species survive in these over-browsed areas and invasive species move in to take their place.
Severe damage to the forest understory can have a long-term negative effect on our native plant communities and the wildlife species that depend on them including songbirds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. The loss of native shrubs and trees contributes to a loss of biodiversity and a broad decline in forest-dependent wildlife. As forests become further degraded and food resources are outstripped, deer may also suffer the consequences of malnourishment and starvation over time.
How does deer over browsing affect native plants and animals?
In many areas of the country, abundant deer have transformed the species composition and structure of woodlands. This has happened because deer preferentially feed on some favored plants and leave others untouched, thereby creating opportunities for some species to thrive at the expense of others. This change, occurring across large areas, has also had impacts on other wildlife. For example, in some places, deer have obliterated low woody plants used by nesting birds. Deer also keep some trees (such as ash, maple and oak) trimmed to the ground, depriving birds and mammals of their acorns and other nuts, which are important food sources. Deer themselves feel the effects of this change in the forest, where they have essentially limited regeneration of their own favored foods, leaving them less food-producing plants in the long run.
What about non-lethal fertility control, such as contraception, to control deer overpopulation?
It has been determined that current materials and methods included in immunocontraception and surgical sterilization efforts, are not suitable to directly reduce deer numbers on the large scale, widespread and high deer population density areas of Montgomery County especially in non-enclosed neighborhoods throughout which deer continue to move. These non-lethal fertility control methods also do not solve the ecological impacts of the existing deer population which continues to over-browse and degrade the forest ecosystem. Furthermore, these immunocontraception substances are not approved for use in Maryland.
What is Archery Managed Deer Hunting?
The Archery Managed Deer Hunting Program is a controlled archery deer hunt, using organized, insured, volunteer hunting groups with experienced, proficient, recreational archery hunters operating under strict guidelines, for the purpose of reducing and/or maintaining deer population numbers on parklands (and other public and private properties) for the benefit of natural ecosystems, citizen landscapes, reducing Deer Vehicle Collisions (DVC’s) and an overall reduction of deer human conflict.
Why use Archery Managed Deer Hunting?
The Montgomery County Department of Parks has been increasingly charged, with finding ways to broaden its management impact on deer populations, through program expansion.
As the Department has researched and observed deer management efforts by other jurisdictions, locally, regionally and nationally, archery hunting has been identified as a safe, low community impact and efficient strategy for reducing and maintaining deer populations to levels more acceptable to human priorities and land uses. This method augments other, long-standing deer population management strategies on parkland, while benefitting highly qualified recreational hunters who wish to be involved. Archery hunting is being utilized as a management tool throughout Maryland (including Montgomery County) and Virginia on both the private landscape, as well as the public landscape by way of state and county government agencies. In its pilot phase (2015/16 – 2017/18), Archery Managed Deer Hunting proved to be safe, successful and beneficial to the parks where it was implemented and provides considerable promise for future locations.
How long will the hunt last?
Under the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Montgomery County Deer Management guidelines, Archery Deer Management runs from the first Friday after Labor Day in September through January 31 annually. For the purposes of our Washington Grove Town Ordinance, a permitted managed deer hunting ‘session’ is defined as any period of time up to and not exceeding the Maryland DNR archery hunt season.
Under Maryland DNR Guidelines archery managed hunting activities are permitted to occur daily, excluding Sundays, from ½ hour prior to legal sunrise to ½ hour following legal sunset. Hunting occurs under strict guidelines in accordance with state and local regulations pertaining to archery deer hunting, and within designated areas. Participants are required to park in designated areas and hunt from a stationary, elevated tree stand. Shooting is restricted to distances within 30 yards, and not from, onto, or across marked trails. Discrete participation/activity is advised, and deer are covered during the process of removal from designated hunting areas.
NOTE: Montgomery County Parks remain open to normal, everyday use by the public during Archery Managed Deer Hunts.
How often will hunters be in our Woods and how will we know they are there?
The volunteer archery group recommended by the Woods Committee and approved by the Town Council will provide us with a schedule of their activities. They will notify a specific point of contact either on the Woods Committee or the Town Council when a hunter will be in the woods. On a regular basis, they will provide us with a tally of deer harvested and the amount of venison donated to food banks. Details will be presented at our Informational Meeting on 6/24.
Who is conducting Archery Managed Hunting activities?
The Woods Committee has interviewed several groups and recommends the Bow Hunter Fire Fighters of Maryland (BHFFMD.com). This group of bowhunting experts are career firefighters from Fire Station #8 in Gaithersburg who have extensive archery hunting proficiency and experience appropriate for our Town’s deer population management situation. Representatives from BHFFMD will speak and answer questions at our June 24 meeting in McCathran Hall.
Should I be concerned about my personal safety and that of my family and pets?
Non-participant injuries resulting from archery hunting activities are all but non-existent. The chance of accidental injury to people or pets is nearly impossible. This is according to the Montgomery County Deer Management website. No personal injury to non-hunting participants have been reported.
Montgomery Parks’ Archery managed hunting occurs under strict guidelines, in accordance with state and local regulations pertaining to archery deer hunting, and within designated area(s) of the park. Participants are required to hunt from a stationary, elevated position, exceeding the County regulation pertaining to required distance from any occupied building.
What is the Archery Managed Deer Hunting Program?
The Archery Managed Deer Hunting Program is a controlled archery deer hunt, using organized, insured hunting groups with experienced, proficient, recreational archery hunters operating under strict guidelines, for the purpose of reducing and/or maintaining deer population numbers on parklands for the benefit of natural ecosystems, citizen landscapes, reducing Deer Vehicle Collisions (DVC’s) and an overall reduction of deer human conflict.
How many deer are we planning to harvest?
Despite various estimates of the number of deer our East and West Woods, the goal is not to eliminate deer from Washington Grove forests, but to reduce their population size to a healthier, more sustainable level. White-tailed deer are a part of our natural heritage and will continue to be present in our forests. However, the environmental damage (lack of understory and forest succession, prevalence of non-native invasive plants, and decrease in biodiversity of both plants and animals) in the East and West Woods show that the number of deer, probably exceeding three dozen deer, exceeds the capacity to sustain a healthy woodland.
Is bow hunting the most humane way to cull deer?
The Woods Committee has spent the last year researching this question to find the most humane way to deal with the deer overpopulation problem. We have recommended to the Town Council a volunteer archery team which is highly qualified, experienced, and proficient. It is well understood that a properly placed arrow minimizes the potential for pain and suffering associated with the death of the animal. Training, regulations, and guidelines have been established by Maryland DNR and MC Parks Deer Management Program for participating hunters in order to maximize and perpetuate hunting and shooting ethics.
What happens if a deer is wounded, but not killed?
With qualified hunters and advanced equipment, this is an increasing rare event, However, the hunter is obligated to track and retrieve the injured animal. This may involve contacting either the property owner or the local police department so the hunter can retrieve and humanely kill the injured animal.
What is the wounding rate?
The archery wounding rate that is reported is a non-recovery rate of deer calculated as the percentage of deer reported as being shot by hunters with an arrow or crossbow bolt that are not successfully retrieved.
The archery wounding/non-recovery rates reported in the Montgomery Parks Managed Deer Hunting Programs are similar, or reduced, when compared to wounding rates reported in more recent studies for hunters using modern archery equipment. Between FY2015-2019, the Montgomery Parks Archery Managed Deer Hunting Program has experienced reported wounding rates ranging from 0.00 – 7.70% with wounding loss rates decreased each consecutive season to date.
What happens to the meat (venison) and other by products?
All deer removed through the Archery Managed Deer Hunting Program are the responsibility of the participating hunter and/or hunting group. Some hunters choose to utilize the meat for their own family, while others may donate the meat to friends, family, churches, or through charitable organizations such as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH). It is required that every deer removed through archery hunting be utilized by the hunter and/or be donated for use by those in need. It is the Woods Committee’s intent that the venison will be donated to FHFH for local food banks.
What are the qualifications of the hunters?
Each individual, qualified hunter will be required to demonstrate: having completed both a State Hunter Education/Safety Course and a State or National Bowhunter Education Foundation Bowhunter Education/Safety Course, a history of archery hunting experience and record of success, current shooting proficiency under the standards and guidelines set forth by the Department of Parks, and must meet the requirements of a criminal background investigation.
How will you know if the hunt is successful?
The Woods Committee is in communications with other communities in Montgomery County, such as the Meadow Wood community, to develop metrics to assess the hunt. Ideally Grove residents will see a decline in deer population the first year with no evidence that the hunters have been here. It will be several years before we begin to see a return to healthy understory in our Woods. However, the Woods Committee will use the existing marked sections in the East Woods mapped for non-native invasive plants as reference points to observe survival of re-emerging native plants against any browsing pressure. The Woods Committee and Town Council welcome residents’ questions and concerns throughout this difficult decision-making process for all of us.