Park Service officials said the white-tailed deer are “overabundant” in the park and have damaged some native plants and trees. Managing them, Park Service officials said, will help “protect and restore” some of the natural area.
The deer have become so overpopulated, experts said, because the park is a good habitat, they have no natural predators, and development has pushed them to the park as a refuge. Before 1960 there were no recorded sightings of white-tailed deer in the park, but by the early 1990s, the sightings of deer were “so frequent that the park stopped recording them," park officials said on their website.
In an email, Megan Nortrup, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said “overabundant deer have caused damage to the forest — specifically tree seedlings and the ability of the forest to regenerate.”
In 2012, the Park Service came up with a plan to reduce the deer population to a more sustainable level. Officials said a “consistent deer population density of 15 to 20 per square mile is needed to allow regeneration in a healthy forest.” In the past decade, the deer population at Rock Creek Park has reached nearly 100 per square mile at its peak, according to the Park Service.
“Without continued management, deer populations would quickly rebound and again eat tree seedlings and other plants before they could grow,” a Park Service statement said.
Over the next few months, safety measures, including having additional Park Service staff on hand, have been put in place to protect visitors and area residents. Commuters and cyclists who use the park are advised to avoid the areas and plan other routes.
Some roads, including Piney Branch Parkway NW and Broad Branch Road NW, will remain open. But others may be temporarily closed in the evenings and overnight, including part of Beach and Sherrill drives NW, along with Wise, Ridge and Glover roads NW.
Once the deer are killed, the venison will be processed and donated to nonprofits that help families in need, according to Park Service officials.