Tuesday, November 21, 2006

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The National Park Service says sharpshooters offer the best solution for thinning the outsize deer herd in Catoctin Mountain Park, the federal woodland surrounding the Camp David presidential retreat.

A draft deer-management plan recommends using guns and other lethal methods to kill an estimated 468 white-tailed deer initially and an additional 50 to 100 annually after that.

The plan, which is open for public comment through Jan. 26, follows 25 years of research and debate into a deer herd blamed for damaging the 5,770-acre park by browsing excessively.

The deer have stripped the lower levels of trees so clean that there has also been concern about the security and seclusion of the camp where presidents have sought refuge since the 1940s, the Associated Press reported in 1997.

The Park Service will hold a public meeting Jan. 6 at Catoctin High School in Thurmont as part of the process for gathering comments on the plan.

The document released Friday 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.

Over 15 years, lethal solutions would cost $739,000 to $941,000, whereas nonlethal methods would cost about $9.6 million, the document states.

“Every effort would be made to make the shootings as humane as possible,” Park Service documents say.

The Humane Society of the United States, a District-based animal-welfare group, has advocated nonlethal controls, including contraception.

Hunting is banned in the national park, but conflicts between people and Maryland’s estimated 260,000 deer have prompted managed hunts on state parklands.

At the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, about 20 miles north of Catoctin Mountain Park, sharpshooters have killed more than 1,800 deer since 1995.

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