The National Park Service begins a new Rock Creek Park “deer management” season at sundown, and its efforts to curb the park’s whitetail deer population will continue through March 2022.
The hunters are U.S. Department of Agriculture biologists, which the Park Service says are also highly trained firearms experts. They are equipped with infrared heat scanners and night vision goggles to aid in identifying and verifying their targets. And as it has since the first operation in March 2013, NPS will donate the venison. The agency says the 2020-2021 deer reduction produced 900 pounds of venison for DC Central Kitchen.
A group that sprang up to oppose the first hunt in 2013 is still active and most recently was organizing against a Park Service proposal to expand the deer management program to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Anacostia Park, and other NPS-managed properties in the District as well as Maryland. Save the Rock Creek Deer has long said the Park Service lacks evidence that it is the deer damaging and otherwise limiting growth of native plants. The group was arguing in 2019 that the lethal method of population control had actually resulted in a deer population boom, as does gave birth to more twins and triplets.
The Park Service says its deer management operation has succeeded in almost tripling tree seedling density since 2013. And the hunt has expanded to include Rock Creek tributaries such as Soapstone Valley and Melvin C. Hazen Park.
The operation takes place between sundown and sunup, when the park is closed to visitors. The press release below has more information, including the hours and locations of possible temporary road closures.
Rock Creek Park announces 2021-2022 deer management operations
WASHINGTON – Since 2013, when the National Park Service (NPS) began reducing the deer population in Rock Creek Park, the park’s tree seedling density has almost tripled. To continue to protect and restore native plants and promote healthy and diverse forests, Rock Creek Park will conduct deer management operations between Nov. 22, 2021, and March 31, 2022.
During this period, the NPS plans to reduce deer populations in Rock Creek Park and other areas under Rock Creek Park’s management. These areas could include Melvin Hazen Park, Soapstone Valley Park, Pinehurst Parkway, Glover Archbold Park, Battery Kemble Park and Fort Totten Park, among others.
Extensive safety measures will be in place to protect park visitors and neighbors during operations. Biologists, who are also highly trained firearms experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be working under the direction of NPS natural resource management specialists and in coordination with U.S. Park Police and local law enforcement, to conduct reduction actions at night when the parks are normally closed.
NPS staff will be posted during temporary night-time road and trail closures for visitor and employee safety during reduction activities. Commuters, including cyclists, are advised to plan alternate routes.
Over the past 20 years, an overabundant white-tailed deer population has damaged Rock Creek Park. Prompted by a marked decline in forest regeneration, the NPS initiated a public process to create a plan, finalized in 2012, which calls for reducing the deer population to a level that will support long-term protection and restoration of native plants and promote a healthy and diverse forest. Learn more about the park’s Environmental Impact Statement and Management Plan: parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=14330.
Research has shown that vegetation damage occurs when deer populations exceed 20 per square mile. Without continued management, deer populations would quickly rebound and again eat tree seedlings and other young plants. The NPS continues to monitor how well plants are growing with fewer deer, and the findings will help inform ongoing deer management actions.
The most recent 2020-2021 deer reduction work in Rock Creek Park produced 900 lbs of venison, which the NPS donated to DC Central Kitchen, providing hundreds of meals to District families in need. The NPS plans to continue donating venison from deer reduction operations.
For further information including a list of sites managed by Rock Creek Park, visit: https://go.nps.gov/RockCreekDeer.
The following roads will remain open at all times:
- Piney Branch Parkway NW.
- Broad Branch Road NW.
- Beach Drive south of Broad Branch Road NW.
Roads to be temporarily closed during operations:
Bingham Drive NW, which is closed to vehicle traffic for a sewer rehabilitation project, will remain closed.
The NPS may temporarily close the following roads from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. to conduct deer management operations:
- Horse Stable Road NW.
- Ridge Road NW, south of Grant Road NW.
- Glover Road NW, south of the Rock Creek Park Horse Center.
Temporary road closures from 6:45 p.m. to 4 a.m. may include:
- Wise Road NW.
- Ridge Road NW.
- Glover Road NW.
- Grant Road NW.
- Joyce Road NW.
- Morrow Drive NW.
- West Beach Drive NW at Parkside Drive NW.
- Stage Road NW.
- Beach Drive between Joyce Road NW and Picnic Grove 10.
The following roads are currently closed to motor vehicles for reasons unrelated to deer management operations. These areas may also close to pedestrians, bicyclists and non-motorized recreation from 6:45 p.m. to 4 a.m.:
- Beach Drive from Broad Branch Road NW to Joyce Road NW.
- Beach Drive from Picnic Grove 10 to Wise Road NW.
- Beach Drive from West Beach Drive NW to the Maryland Boundary.
- Sherrill Drive NW.
- Ross Drive NW.