Once upon a time, in the merry month of May, Mother Doe gave birth to Little Fawn in the big wood Rock Creek. She nursed him for a while, although she had to leave him hidden when she went out to eat. After about a month, she said, “Its time you learned grazing – wildflowers, shoots, grass –what to eat, and where to find it.” They began a daily round to the meadows and forage in the Park.
One afternoon she said to Little Fawn, “There are greener pastures across the road. Tonight we are going to Forest Hills. I want you to have your first taste of hosta.”
That evening they crossed the creek and headed up the hill. This became their summer, going back and forth, sometimes spending the night in a quiet backyard. Little Fawn grew fast on the impatiens, lilies, daisies, petunias and tender shrubs provided by thoughtful residents. By fall he weighed close to 60 pounds.
By the next summer, Little Fawn had grown to Big Buck. He was over 130 pounds – and he had begun to grow antlers. He had left his mother, but Forest Hills was still his favorite restaurant. He could jump fences now, and he began to memorize the best back yards and the healthiest hosta.
The humans didn’t bother him much. They clapped their hands and yelled “Get out.” He learned to show them the white of his tail and canter a hundred feet or so.
But the humans were not happy. The hosta leaves got eaten as fast as they grew back. The deer repellent spray smelled awful. They were tired of going to Johnson’s and buying new lilies and begonias.
A great cry went up from the land of forested hills. “Do something,” they said to the National Park Service.
Here we digress from the fairy tale into reality…
National Park Service decides on a deer management plan
The National Park Service was not happy either. Rock Creek Park was losing the wildflowers, shrubs and vines that made up the ground cover needed by birds and animals. Deer were eating tree seedlings as fast as they came up, so that there were no new trees to replace the ones that were dying. For twenty years NPS had been
worrying about the Park’s ecology.
In 2009 the Park Service began an Environmental Impact Statement. A study in 2007 had shown that there were 80 deer per square mile in Rock Creek (375 deer in all), when the habitat could support maybe 15-20. For the statement, they laid out four alternative plans, held two public meetings, solicited written comments for 90 days, and finally, on May 1, 2012, they announced a White-Tailed Deer Management Plan.
The statement found that “nearly all tree and shrub seedlings are being browsed by deer before they have a chance to grow.” Remedies include fencing some areas, but, more effective, deer would be gradually culled over a period of three years until the herd was reduced to 15-20 per mile.
I am told that a sharpshooting team from the U.S Dept of Agriculture is presently working in Catoctin Park in Maryland and Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania., and that this team may begin work in Rock Creek in January or February 2013. Signs will be posted beforehand. After three years, of course, it is likely that more money will have to be appropriated and the process continued at some level.
For detailed information from the National ParkService: See the Park handout, available on this web site as a PDF download. The Final Environmental Impact Statement is available at parkplanning.nps.gov/rocr and at nps.gov/rocr. The latter address has a good FAQ. You can email questions to Chief Ranger Nick Bartolomeo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The fairies return…
And what about Big Buck? (This is a fairy tale after all.) In October and November of 2012, Big Buck began to feel bad vibes in the Park. Forest Hills was looking better and better. He scouted until he found an acre lot, wooded and unkempt, where the owner traveled a lot. It was close to many other backyards with his favorite dessert, hosta. He might have to go to the Park to look for a mate, but he had found his dream home.
We see him often. He seems to be settling in nicely. We call him “Nibs.”