|Deer in Green Spring Gardens.|
Unfortunately, neither of these sessions on the 2013-14 archery program is actually in the Mason area. The first one is tonight, Aug. 13, 6-7 p.m., at the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax. The second meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 20, 6-7 p.m., at the South Fairfax County Government Center, 8350 Richmond Highway, Alexandria.
This is the first time that deer hunting has been approved for what the Animal Services Division is referring to as the “Annandale Cluster,” which includes Mason District Park on Columbia Pike and Holmes Run Stream Valley in Annandale, Roundtree Park and the White Gardens Park in the Falls Church area of Mason District, and the Lillian Carey Park in Bailey’s Crossroads.
“Deer population control is a necessary management tool to be conducted wherever it is safe to do so,” says Fairfax County wildlife biologist Vicky Monroe. “Our average deer population density is 40 to 100 deer per square mile, up to an estimated 400 deer per square mile in some areas,” she said. That is far above the “biological carrying-capacity for white-tailed deer,” which is 15 to 20 per square mile. When the deer population exceeds that limit, “damage to native habitat occurs.”
According to Monroe, “qualified archery groups” have already been selected via lottery and have been assigned to specific parks. They are taking part in mandatory safety training during August.
Even with qualified, trained hunters, the use of archery in the Annandale area presents a major safety risk, as these parks are in densely populated areas and are heavily used by dog walkers, hikers, bikers, and kids. All of the parks in the Annandale Cluster except the White Gardens have playgrounds.
Although the hunters are supposed to post signs warning of an upcoming hunt, these parks and trails are easily accessible from all directions, so people entering a park from a backyard or side street could easily miss a warning sign. In previous years, the warning signs referred to “deer management,” which didn’t make it clear that people would be shooting arrows.
Allowing bowhunting in parks in the Annandale area is “extremely dangerous, considering the human population in the area,” said Michelle Raiszadeh, a biologist who works with 21st Century Deer Management in Fairfax County, a group that promotes more humane, effective solutions to the deer problem.
“Many people who use parks haven’t received warning letters and won’t understand what is going on,” she said. “The county should seek permission from the community before going ahead with the bowhunting program. This is all going on behind our backs.”
One of the arguments for hunting deer is the danger of deer/vehicle collisions, Raiszadeh noted, but bowhunting actually increases the risk of collisions, as injured or frightened deer often run across roads.
“Deer hunting is extremely inhumane,” she said. “People are told that when deer are shot, they are killed right away. That is not true. They really suffer a lot.”
“And who wants to have a dying deer in their backyard and have their children see that?” Raiszadeh said, adding, “if people are so concerned about deer eating their ornamental or garden plants, there are plenty of solutions that don’t involve killing animals.”
21st Century Deer Management had proposed the 4-Poster system to kill ticks that cause Lyme disease, and Fairfax County implemented a 4-Poster pilot project but so far has not released the results.
“We have entered our second year of the three-year pilot study,” said Monroe. The county has been collecting data and is “beginning to see interesting results. We will have preliminary data regarding the generational effects of the 4-Posters on tick densities at the end of our second year.”
According to Raiszadeh, 21st Century Deer Management offered the county the use of the DeerDeter system to keep deer off roads, but the county didn’t take advantage of it. Another solution that is being tried in Maryland by a group called Wildlife Rescue involves using a sharpshooter to tranquilize a deer and then remove its ovaries so it can’t reproduce.