Hunters and police sharpshooters will hunt deer at seven public parks in Fairfax County this winter, part of an expanding effort to reduce the number of deer feasting on local gardens and colliding with cars on busy streets.
Fairfax County supervisors voted 6 to 3 yesterday to increase the number of park sites for the hunts--up from three this year--despite objections from several board members who called the hunts inhumane and also ineffective, given the county's burgeoning deer population.
Like other suburban areas nationwide, Fairfax County is struggling to deal with a sharp increase in the number of deer. Virginia officials estimate that there are 1 million deer statewide--with tens of thousands in Fairfax.
The public faces a special danger from deer on the road, said Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville).
"We are now going to have around seven to eight thousand auto accidents this year," Mendelsohn said. "We can't sit by and do nothing while we wait for the perfect solution. We have to start doing something."
Two years ago, Dranesville resident Cheryl Czepluch, 49, an elementary school librarian, was killed when her car struck a deer that dashed into early morning traffic on Old Dominion Drive. Although 50 auto accidents involving deer were reported last year in the county, Fairfax officials said 1,100 deer carcasses were found by roadsides. Wildlife experts estimate that three times that number probably made their way back into the woods to die after collisions with cars.
Virginia wildlife officials yesterday applauded Fairfax County's efforts to reduce its herd but questioned whether hunts in seven parks would make much of a difference. The county must kill more than 30 percent of the deer herd each year, they said--or thousands of deer annually--to counteract the rapid growth in the deer population.
County-sanctioned efforts have killed fewer than 200 during the past two years.
Such programs "have to be looked at as experimental," said Bob Duncan, director of the wildlife division of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "They are going to have to go way beyond that."
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said he believes the deer problem is overstated and that efforts to kill them have been cruel, ineffective and a waste of money.
"I don't think killing deer has done anything," Frey said.
Yesterday's action by the supervisors gives a green light to the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to organize kills by the end of next month.
The parks authorized for hunts are: Bull Run Regional Park, Upper Potomac Regional Park, Meadowlark Gardens Regional Park, Bull Run/Occoquan Watershed, Difficult Run Stream Valley Park, Riverbend Park and Huntley Meadows Park. Together they comprise thousands of acres.
The two park agencies may choose between "managed hunts" for the public or deer kills by police sharpshooters.
Police sharpshooters were brought into three parks for about a week last year. They rode in the back of pickup trucks at night and used spotlights to see the deer before they shot. They killed 107 deer, officials said.
Participants in managed hunts at two parks two years ago bagged about 60 deer, and the parks had to be cordoned off by police to block visitors. At more than $1,000 a deer, supervisors and others attacked the hunts as costly and ineffective.
Supervisor Robert B. Dix Jr. (R-Hunter Mill), who voted against the plan yesterday, said he is concerned that managed hunts will endanger people inside the parks and homes that surround the park.
Officials say they have learned from experience and can organize hunts that kill more deer and protect the public at a lower cost.
CAPTION: A growing deer population has prompted Fairfax supervisors to add four public parks to the list of sites where deer will be targeted this winter.