Managed deer hunts spark controversy in D.C. area

SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJLA) - Michelle McCarron of Silver Spring says it used to be rare to see deer in her Silver Spring neighborhood. Now, she sees them every day.

"They're getting much more, I would say, domesticated," explained McCarron. "They're not afraid."

Deer can be a welcome sight for some, but their presence can also be a nuisance, even dangerous. The creatures can run into the roads and ruin landscaping by eating flowers and other vegetation.

Bill Hamilton is a Natural Resources Specialist in Montgomery County, where for 17 years there have been managed deer hunts to control the population. This week, Montgomery County started a managed hunt scheduled to last through February. It's happening at parks all over the county, and Hamilton believes it works.

Hamilton shared numbers from part of Sligo Creek in Wheaton and Silver Spring. In 2007, a survey estimated up to 70 deer were killed in that area. By 2009 the numbers jumped to as many as 123. But after sharpshooters hit the area, last year the number fell to 104.

"In the best interest of the environment and of public safety, we think we're doing the right thing," said Hamilton.

But not everyone likes the hunts. Anne Barton was part of a lawsuit that tried to stop a Park Service hunt in Rock Creek Park.

"Sports hunting was historically useful, very useful, it saved a lot of species," explained Barton of Northwest Washington. "But this is not sports hunting."

In populated areas, Barton believes non-lethal methods like deer contraception are better. In Montgomery they use some non-lethal methods, but Hamilton says they alone don't work at reducing deer populations.