Woodbridge community divided over culling

November 11, 2013

The Oct. 17 agenda for the River Ridge Community Association included planning social activities, replacing the clubhouse carpeting and pruning the crepe myrtles in common areas.

Listed under new business was deer control. The unanimous vote that followed, in favor of hiring an animal-management company to cull the animals with bows and arrows, has ignited a firestorm in the picturesque Woodbridge senior community.

Hugh Stevenson, president of the association that oversees the 238-home community, said the board has little choice. Culling the deer is the only effective method, he said. Birth-control darts, fences and other methods are costly and aren’t permanent solutions, he said.

“It’s been getting worse and worse; that’s sort of the bottom line,” Stevenson said.

There have been several complaints about the animals from residents, Stevenson said. Deer can be traffic hazards, and they can harbor the ticks that carry Lyme disease. But mostly they’re “decimating the vegetation, which supports other animals in the community,” Stevenson said. “They’re eating everything.”

Not everyone at River Ridge is on board.

Yale Schiffman, 75, who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years, said he hopes the community’s leaders will reconsider. At his home recently — a minute or two past the tennis and bocce courts, swimming pool and community center — he pored over a map of River Ridge, saying that there are few places where hunting could safely take place.

In his back yard, Schiffman pointed out his neighbors’ shrubs, which had been chewed and trampled. But his shrubs were untouched: Deer don’t like the yellow-green spirea he planted, he said. Another neighbor’s holly was untouched because the homeowner had surrounded it with black net-like fencing.

Schiffman said that although he believes the culling plan is an overreaction, he also objects because he loves nature. He and his wife have photo albums filled with pictures of the bluebirds that nest near their back yard.

Stevenson said most of the objections to the proposed culling are similar to Schiffman’s.

“People don’t like to kill big furry animals,” Stevenson said. “It’s that simple.”

The plan faces some practical hurdles. There are few, if any, places within the community where a hunter could shoot deer at a safe distance from houses, residents say. Stevenson said the board hopes to strike an agreement with the Fairfax County Water Authority, which owns large tracts adjacent to River Ridge, that would allow the hunting to take place there.

The plan will not move forward until the board makes such an agreement, Stevenson said. In the meantime, the board plans to provide more information on the proposal in response to the community’s concerns.

Stevenson declined to say whether the board would reconsider its position. He said no agreement had been signed with surrounding landowners to allow hunting on their premises.

He said many community residents don’t realize that reducing the deer population is in the animals’ best interest.

“The deer are getting emaciated; you can see the ribs on them,” Stevenson said. “When you see that, it means there’s not enough food for them. It’s trying to optimize the health of the herd.”

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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