- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Fairfax County's (Va.) deer population still numbers in the tens of thousands despite recent efforts to cull the burgeoning white-tailed herd, county officials said yesterday.

Private hunters and police sharpshooters killed 284 deer in five county parks last winter during a two-month project, officials said. The tally disappoints critics, including several Fairfax County supervisors, who argue the hunts hardly make a dent in the county's deer population.

"If the deer population is between 20,000 to 50,000, do you think 284 is going to help trim the population?" said county Supervisor Michael R. Frey, a Republican who represents Sully District. "It's like spitting into the ocean."

The critics also said the hunts waste time and money. The county spent about $1,640 to hold the 15 hunts. The cost included overtime pay and rental equipment used in the hunts, but excludes hourly salaries of police sharpshooters and parks employees who supervise the hunts.

"For the true cost of the hunts, we could probably take these deer and ship them to Montana on an airplane and buy them first-class seats," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell, a Republican who represents the Springfield District. "I just don't think the hunts have been effective in culling the deer."

However, the county took in $2,760 in revenue because hunters had to pay a fee to participate in a lottery to choose who would participate in the public hunts.

Other supervisors contend the hunts succeed in curbing the deer population. Every deer killed, they say, reduces the risk of car accidents, the spread of Lyme disease and environmental damage.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross, a Democrat who represents Mason District. "We've probably taken care of several hundred more deer with the number that were killed by hunters and sharpshooters."

The county's deer population has been estimated between 25,000 and 50,000. Only 5,000 deer should be living within the county's 399 square miles, environmental experts say.

Hunters killed 195 deer during four hunts at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville and Upper Potomac Regional Park near Great Falls last December and January.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County police sharpshooters killed 89 deer during 11 hunts at Bull Run, Upper Potomac, Huntley Meadows, Riverbend and Meadowlark Gardens parks.

"It certainly has been more successful than in the past," Mrs. Gross said.

In 1998, hunters killed 60 deer. During a sharpshooting pilot program in early 1999, 107 were killed, county statistics show.

Officials said that, of the 284 deer killed, 202 were does, estimating that the hunts reduced the total spring deer population by 486 deer and prevented about 886,950 pounds of vegetation from being destroyed in county parks and neighborhoods.

Deer have the potential for rapid growth. Usually, a yearling can bear a single fawn, while does 2 years old and older produce twins annually. Of those does, 67 percent have twins, 21 percent bear single fawns and 12 percent have triplets. As a result, about 140 fawns are born for every 100 does in the population.

"Every little bit helps and one deer can make a difference," said Earl Hodnett, a Fairfax County wildlife biologist who heads the managed deer hunts. "I'm very happy with the outcome."

Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat who represents Providence District, disagreed.

"To be told that 284 deer were culled, does not, at least at first glance, suggest a very significant culling of the herd," Mr. Connolly said. "We were told in the beginning that the hunts would be an effective method to reduce the numbers. Now to hear that every little bit helps, it seems to be a retreat from that. The herd will still grow."

Mr. Connolly said he will have to be convinced that the hunts actually reduce the deer population before he votes to hold another hunt.

In a 10-page report sent to the Board of Supervisors last month, county officials involved in the hunts blamed several incidents for keeping the tally low. Two sharpshooting hunts were canceled, one because of snow and the other because a park site was not available.

The report added that 1,685 deer died in the county last year through means other than county-run hunts. About 800 deer were struck by cars, 128 were euthanized because of sickness or injury, and 53 died from epizootic hemorrhagic disease, an illness found in the Fairfax herd last fall.

Another 655 deer were killed in private hunts at Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge and Mason Neck State Park, Washington Dulles International Airport, Fort Belvoir, or on private land, the report noted.

"It's taken about 15 years for us to have this problem," Mr. Hodnett said. "It would be reasonable to give us a few more years to get it under control."

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