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Opinion Maryland wants to put a limit on bow-hunting antlerless deer

(August Frank/AP)
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Peggy Dennis is past president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. Mark Eakin is director of the Animal Connection Deer Management Team.

For the past several years, the Wildlife and Heritage Service of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has worked with the Montgomery County Council and county residents to liberalize the regulations on bow-and-arrow hunting for white-tailed deer.

The “safety zone” has been decreased to 50 yards in recognition of the fact that archery hunting is safe, quiet and discreet. To date, there have been no recorded instances of a non-hunter, pet or livestock injured or killed by a bowhunter in Maryland. Sunday hunting has also been expanded.

These measures are badly needed to cull the herds of deer that have taken over our stream valleys and community parks and our suburban neighborhoods and yards.

Unfortunately, this year the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposes to limit the number of antlerless deer that can be harvested in archery season. Now, shotgun and muzzleloader seasons have a limit of 10 antlerless deer. Despite archery season lasting approximately 80 percent of the hunting season, the DNR proposes to impose a limit of 10 antlerless deer during archery season as well. The reason? Hunters in rural parts of Maryland complain they are seeing fewer deer. So, to assuage the concerns of rural hunters, the DNR proposes to limit archery hunting in the suburban parts of the state as well.

There are a limited number of bowhunters with the high skills and the appropriate mind-set for deer population control in suburban neighborhoods. These hunters are already harvesting large numbers of deer over the long archery season. Forcing them to reduce the number of deer they harvest in suburban areas will do nothing to improve hunter satisfaction in rural counties, but it will limit hunters’ ability to reduce deer populations in suburban counties. Some of the deer these hunters harvest are donated to programs such as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, providing thousands of meals every year.

The Montgomery County Civic Federation strongly supports efforts to cull the deer herds. Overpopulation of deer severely degrades our natural environment. In parks from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park to stream valleys and regional and community parks across the county, deer have browsed vegetation from the ground up to five feet. A lack of ground cover or saplings deprives small mammals and ground-nesting birds of habitat. Rain on bare soil causes soil erosion, further degrading the natural and healthy environment. Some environmental scientists believe that the environmental damage caused by deer overpopulation is second only to climate change as a cause for concern.

In Montgomery County, we have more than 2,000 reported deer-vehicle collisions each year; insurance companies estimate an equal number go unreported. This poses a significant public-safety problem. Then there is the risk to public health. Deer and deer ticks carry Lyme disease, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Powassan virus. Our county spends significant funds annually related to deer. Montgomery Parks conducts managed hunts within more than two dozen parks, costing $459,971 in 2016. In that year, the county paid an additional $100,047 to collect and dispose of roadkill, plus $20,000 to have surplus deer taken by hunters, professional and amateur, processed and distributed to help feed the hungry.

In 2016, the DNR thanked us for our “ongoing commitment to facilitating hunting as a primary tool for managing our suburban deer populations.” Why is it now proposing regulations that will undermine the very management tool it has championed? The DNR should reinstitute the old Suburban Deer Archery Zone in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties, which allowed for unlimited harvest of antlerless deer during archery season. This will allow bowhunters to continue to help reduce deer overpopulation in these counties, and allow the DNR to apply lower limits in rural areas as it sees fit to benefit hunter satisfaction.

Read more about this issue:

Jim Sterba: If we want to protect deer, we need to shoot a few

Al Cambronne: The humane solution for Rock Creek’s deer