A deer grazes during the late afternoon in Rock Creek Park on June 14. After a National Park Service cull this month, the venison from 55 deer was sent to DC Central Kitchen, which provides meals to shelters and nonprofits. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The operations were conducted at night. The targets, in the words of a federal agency spokeswoman, needed to be “reduced.”

Earlier this month, 55 deer in Rock Creek Park were reduced — or. in the parlance of ordinary people, killed — as part of the Rock Creek Park White-tailed Deer Management Plan. And the mission had a payoff: On Tuesday, the National Park Service donated the deer meat — all 1,700 pounds of it — to the DC Central Kitchen, which gives out 5,000 free meals per day to 80 nearby homeless shelters, transitional homes and nonprofit organizations.

Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a National Park Service spokeswoman, said culling Rock Creek’s deer population is essential to protect the long-term health of the park. Deer eat tree seedlings and other vegetation, depriving other wildlife of food and shelter and imperiling the viability of the forest.

“If the forest can’t continue to regenerate, then Rock Creek Park as we know it will cease to exist,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “While it sounds very euphemistic to call it a reduction or an operation, this isn’t hunting. This is truly a scientific-based management plan and management action.”

She said the shooters are biologists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who go out at night with park rangers to cull the deer. “These guys are the experts at doing this. They have an in­cred­ibly high success and safety rate,” Anzelmo-Sarles said.

Such deer harvests have prompted outcries across the region. Two years ago, an animal rights group and several local residents sued the Interior Department in federal court in Washington. The court ruled in the government’s favor in March 2013, but the activists are appealing, according to Anzelmo-Sarles.

The National Park Service says the deer population in Rock Creek Park has gotten smaller but it’s still double the size it should be. In the early 1990s and 2000s, the population reached a high of up to 98 deer per square mile of Rock Creek Park, Anzelmo-Sarles said. By the fall of 2014, the number had dropped to 40 per square mile, but it should be about 15 to 20 deer per square mile.

This year has been brutal for Rock Creek Park deer. Anzelmo-Sarles said 161 deer were killed as part of two hunts — or, in her words, “windows of action.” (In 2013, just 20 were “removed.”)

The meat was prepared by a butcher on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, put on a truck and sent right over.

“Because protein is one of the hardest donations to come by, DC Central Kitchen is grateful to receive this nutritious lean protein to use in our meals,” said Amy Bachman, DC Central Kitchen’s procurement and sustainability manager. “We will use the venison in a variety of meals, including venison chili and venison bolognese.”

No reduction sauce necessary.