Planned bowhunts for deer in Va. parks called 'barbaric'

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Planned deer hunts in two Fairfax County public parks are riling animal-rights advocates and residents who say the county's new bow-and-arrow deer-culling program is inhumane and dangerous.

Starting before dawn Monday, a handful of archers from Suburban Whitetail Deer Management of Northern Virginia, a nonprofit volunteer deer hunting group, went to the Colvin Run Stream Valley and Colvin Run Mill parks and hunted deer from 20- to 30-foot-high deer stands. It was unclear how many were killed, said Eric Huppert, a founder and president of the deer hunting group, but about four archers showed up Monday, and the meat collected will be donated to area homeless shelters.

The Colvin Run hunt, which is limited to members of the nonprofit group and will last until Jan. 16 except for two weeks around Thanksgiving and Christmas, has been met with resistance from neighbors and animal rights groups.

A wildlife biologist from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Jodi Minion, wrote to county officials last month arguing that bowhunting is "among the cruelest forms of hunting" because struck deer sometimes die slowly. Missy Snelling of Arlington County has led the call to shut down the bowhunt program, calling it a "barbaric way to solve the deer problem." The Washington-based Humane Society of the United States also urged the county to cancel the hunt.

After 270 letters were sent to homeowners this month in Colvin Run alerting them to the hunt, residents poured into two county informational meetings to protest. The "passionate response" by several attendees led county officials to close the Colvin Run park during the hunt out of security concerns, said Vicki Monroe, Fairfax County wildlife biologist.

A second hunt at Laurel Hill, where deer poaching has become a problem, is set to start Nov. 30 and run through Jan. 30, but that park will not be closed.

County officials who were barraged with phone calls and e-mails from concerned residents over the past few weeks say the overabundant deer populations in Colvin Run and Laurel Hill are ruining the parkland. At Colvin Run, there are an estimated 60 to 100 deer per square mile; the biological "carrying capacity," or the amount the ecosystem can handle, is between 20 and 25 deer per square mile.

"We need to manage this situation because it's out of control," said Judy Pedersen, a spokeswoman with Fairfax County's Park Authority.

Hunters also say bowhunting is safer and more humane than hunting with traditional firearms. Archers in deer stands cannot be closer than 100 feet to a residential property or 50 feet from a park trail, and officials say there have been no known human fatalities during a bow-and-arrow deer hunt.

"It's not inhumane. It's not cruel. It's pretty safe," said Huppert, the deer hunting group president. "And when you hit a deer point-blank with a razor-sharp rodhead, it's pretty quick and painless."

Bowhunts in the Northern Virginia suburbs and the District are not new. An archery pilot program was launched in 2003 at Huntley Meadows in Fairfax, and hunters in Fort Belvoir have routinely culled their deer populations.

A homeowners association in Beacon Hill, an affluent, 200-house community in Loudoun County, began allowing residents to bowhunt deer earlier this fall. District officials are in discussions about bowhunting in Rock Creek State Park and Battery Kemble Park.

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