A controversial plan that would allow hunters to take aim at deer in Rock Creek Park is one step closer to becoming a reality.
If the plan is adopted in 30 days, which is to be expected, trained sharp-shooters will go to work in the park at night in late 2012 with the goal of lowering the white-tailed deer population by more than 50 percent. Right now, the population sits at about 1,900.
National Park Service officials say that too many deer are eating too many tree seedlings in the park and, if left alone to reproduce unabated, the animals could compromise the long-term health of the ecosystem by nearly denuding the forest.
"Reducing the deer herd is absolutely necessary in order to maintain Rock Creek Park the way it exists for future generations," said National Park Service spokesman Bill Line.
Since deer have no natural predator in the park, their numbers have exploded, from 58 deer per square mile in 2006 to 385 deer per square mile in 2011.
After two years of study, park officials determined that while employing professional sharp-shooters is not ideal, it is the most effective method of herd control.
"The non-lethal method alone without the lethal method would not solve the problem that we have in Rock Creek Park."
Under this plan, the National Park Service will also employ non-lethal tactics, including the use of repellants, fences, reproductive control and capture and euthanasia.
A park spokesperson said sharpshooters have culled deer populations in other national parks and that Fairfax and Montgomery Counties have, for years, used this method to control deer numbers.