A reader in Chevy Chase, Md., photographed deer near his house on the edge of Rock Creek Park. (Roy Bowman/Roy Bowman)

Rock Creek Park sharpshooting operation yields 20 deer

Twenty deer were killed late last week in Rock Creek Park during the National Park Service’s first sharpshooting operation.

The number falls far below the agency’s target to harvest between 60 and 70 deer in the park over four nightly operations between Wednesday and Saturday. Park entrances were blocked off as sharpshooters stood in the hills with thermal-vision goggles, waiting for deer to partake of corn-cob bait. There were no injuries to staff, according to Carol Johnson, the agency’s spokeswoman.

The deer were taken to a processing plant on the Eastern Shore, where the animals will be tested, weighed and carved. The meat will be donated to the hungry.

The sharpshooting mission has been controversial. After the agency announced its plan to shoot deer, neighbors and animal rights activists took them to court over the right to kill native wildlife. The courts ruled in favor of the agency March 14, clearing the path for planning the sharpshooting operation two weeks later.

Those activists protested the operations throughout the weekend. They advocate using non-
lethal methods — from birth control to fencing — as a way to control deer populations.

The park service has argued that the overabundance of deer has threatened native trees and plants. Biologists recommend no more than 20 deer per square mile; in Rock Creek Park there are 70.