What to do about marauding Bambis?

Petula Dvorak
Columnist December 9, 2013

White-tailed deer, those magical, delicate creatures with big, inky eyes and long lashes, have basically become the rats and pigeons of the suburbs.

Their poll numbers plummeted over the weekend, when a freak accident in Loudoun County sent a buck that had just been hit by an SUV flying through the air and right into a runner.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

The runner, who had logged only five of the seven miles she planned to run in her neon orange shoes that night, was knocked out cold. She’s better now.

But isn’t it about time to do something about all these deer?

Fairfax County alone has about 4,000 to 5,000 deer-vs.-car crashes a year, according to a county report on wildlife and the environment.

Deer devour suburban gardens — at the rate of about a ton of vegetation a year for every mouth. Their favorites include violets, roses, tulips, hydrangeas, crab apples, pansies, Indian Hawthorn and English ivy.

There’s really not much they won’t eat.

Carnations, daffodils and ornamental grasses, the county suggests.

What? Who wants that kind of low-rent garden?

The only solution is to shoot them, of course.

Over the weekend, Fairfax sent letters to residents announcing a round of deer killings. It will begin Dec. 15 and go until February.

Whoa. Watch out, Rudolph!

Some of the hunts — carried out by police — will happen in the lovely, family-friendly Frying Pan Farm Park.

“I’m really trying to evolve on this,” said Gwyn Whittaker, who was shaken by the announcement of deer kills in the park. She has lived near the park for 23 years and frequently sees “the beautiful deer, fox, owls and other wildlife” on her daily walks.

She’s earnestly doing a lot of research — she went to talk to the police on Monday — to learn why more and more people in her county are in favor of the kills.

Whittaker is on the board of the Washington Humane Society and has been a vegetarian most of her life. She’d rather see expensive but humane contraception programs used to curb the deer population.

She’s not alone.

When the folks from the National Park Service started deer kills at Rock Creek Park this spring, protesters were outraged not only by the kill itself but also by the cruel methods. It was right before Easter and Passover, and the does were probably pregnant. The shooters lured them out with piles of apples and grain.

And here we go again with the holiday cheer, right before Christmas, as the deer are in their breeding season and foraging in the cold.

“How do you have a non-emotional discussion on this?” Whittaker said.

It’s never non-emotional when it comes to Bambi.

But then again, neither of us has ever been in a car accident involving a deer. I would guess that I’d be screaming, raging and emotional if my children had ever been hurt in a crash because one of those deer darted in front of us on the parkway. Or if my kids got Lyme disease carried by a deer tick.

The only place where Whittaker and others like her may pivot — and public support of deer kills is growing — would be on the cold, hard facts of what is happening on the roads.

Police in Fairfax County said only about 25 percent of the deer that are hit by vehicles are killed at the scene. Most of them hobble off into the woods and die slow, painful deaths.

“So what’s better? That or getting a bullet in the head?” Whittaker asked.

I found one possible solution at Bentley Processing in Fauquier County, where Sandy Bentley skins, cuts and packages 600 to 700 deer each season.

About 100 of them are shot in government-sponsored kills, and Bentley donates most of her company’s labor to process them. Then, the meat goes to a food bank for families in need.

Or we could try something more radical.

Remember that mountain lion spotted in Southeast D.C. in October?

Trackers never found it, but the city gets reports about four times a year from folks who swear they saw one, said Scott Giacoppo, vice president of external affairs at the Washington Humane Society.

We could reintroduce mountain lions to the urban and suburban parks fed up with deer.

There’s a Web site called Cougar Quest — no, not a dating site — that tracks cougar sightings throughout Virginia. There have been plenty.

It’s a solution that’s right out of federal politics — subcontract the dirty work to these cats, and no one has blood on their hands.

But, shoot.

Then, what would we do about all the cougars?

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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