Some of the sharpshooters are positioned on the wooded hillsides, and others are on the back of flatbed trucks that creep through the muted stillness of the park, which is cordoned off to traffic. The idea is to aim downward so any errant bullet will sink into the earth. Even the ammunition has been carefully selected to disintegrate in the deer’s body.
Despite the many safety precautions described by National Park Service officials, some residents are continuing to protest the deer shoot, which started Wednesday and will be completed Saturday. Sixty to 70 deer are expected to be shot. After the carcasses are tested for disease, the venison will be donated to food pantries.
The Park Service says that what it euphemistically calls a deer “harvest” is needed to safeguard the health of the park, the herd, and the people who live nearby or use the park. With 70 deer per square mile, the park has about four times the density considered ideal.
But some residents and animal rights activists, who fought a losing court battle to stop the deer shoot, say slaying animals in a city park surrounded by densely packed neighborhoods is barbaric, particularly going into the Easter weekend. They have turned out to protest and established a Twitter account to collect signatures on a petition urging the Park Service to stop the harvest. One person wrote on @rockcreekdeer that the otherwise tranquil park is being turned into a “killing field.”
“It shows so little respect for the community to do this during Passover and Easter weekend, when everyone in Washington is leaving town,” said Carol Grunewald, a Chevy Chase resident who was the lead plaintiff in a U.S. District Court case. In a March 14 ruling, the judge reaffirmed the Park Service’s authority to kill the deer if it is in the park’s best interest.
The agency says the abundance of deer threatens the native plant species, endangering the food supply of other animals in the park. Park officials, citing safety concerns, did not allow reporters to observe the sharpshooters working in a stretch north of the National Zoo that is bounded by 16th Street and Oregon Avenue.
Some of the park’s neighbors are grateful that they will have fewer deer to contend with.
Roy Bowman, who lives in Chevy Chase half a mile from the park, has woken up to find as many as 10 deer at once munching their way through his back yard.
“They eat everything,” he said. “Don’t even think about tulips. They’ve eaten them down to the nub. They ate a little plant with red flowers that’s supposed to be deer resistent. It’s finished. They love it.”
Bowman said he also worries about his grandchildren, who live even closer to the park than he does, being bitten by a deer tick carrying Lyme disease.