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Proposal aims to kill 2,000 deer

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HAGERSTOWN, Md. | Sharpshooters would kill more than 2,000 white-tailed deer over 15 years to curb tree damage in Catoctin Mountain Park, the federal woodland surrounding Camp David, under a National Park Service plan awaiting final approval.

The shooting will likely begin next fall, park Superintendent Mel Poole said Monday.

"We would want to go after the deer at a time they would be maximally available to us, which would be during the fall rut," or mating season, Mr. Poole said. Sport hunting is banned in the park.

A Final Environmental Impact Statement describing the plan has been posted on an agency Web site, parkplanning.nps.gov, after 27 years of study. Barring some dramatic, unforeseen development, the park service will formally adopt the plan on or shortly after Jan. 12, Mr. Poole said.

The deer herd, estimated at 936, is blamed for damaging the 5,770-acre park near Thurmont by browsing excessively on trees and other plants, resulting in reduced forest regeneration and less diversity of species.

The deer have stripped the lower levels of trees so clean that there has been concern about the security and seclusion of the presidential retreat where commanders in chief beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt have sought refuge since the 1940s. One of the park's functions is to serve as a buffer for Camp David.

However, Mr. Poole said the deer management plan is not a Camp David issue.

"It's an action the National Park Service is taking in Catoctin Mountain Park," he said.

The herd reduction would be achieved mostly by sharpshooting, but some animals would be euthanized after removal from areas near buildings or park boundaries.

Under the plan, sharpshooters would kill 468 deer, or half the herd, in the first year. Assuming an annual deer population growth rate of 20 percent, sharpshooters would kill another 281 the second year and 169 the third.

They would shoot another 75 deer in each of the next 12 years, for a total of 1,818. Fifteen deer would be captured and euthanized each year, for a grand total of 2,043 over 15 years.

The park service estimated the cost of the plan at $738,600 to $941,100.

The action is intended to reduce the deer population density to 15 to 20 per square mile from 104 currently. The agency says killing the animals and donating the venison to charity is cheaper and more environmentally sound than using fencing, repellents and contraceptives to control the herd.

The plan is one of four deer-management alternatives the agency floated in a draft environmental impact statement two years ago. Of nine public comments received in response, seven supported shooting deer. The Humane Society of the United States and the D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute urged the park service to pursue nonlethal solutions.

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