|Roundtree Park on Annandale Road.|
The only other public meeting, at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax last week, also had sparse attendance.
And that’s too bad, because this is an issue of great concern to Annandale/Mason residents. For the first time, the county is allowing the use of archery to kill deer in what’s been identified as the “Annandale cluster,” which includes Mason District Park, Holmes Run Stream Valley, Roundtree Park, the White Gardens Park, and the Lillian Carey Park. [The area approved for deer hunting along Holmes Run is north of Lake Barcroft, not along the trail adjacent to Roundtree.]
At the Aug. 20 meeting, Jeremy Everitts, assistant wildlife biologist in the Fairfax County Animal Services Division, and Kristen Sinclair, senior natural resource specialist with the Fairfax County Park Authority, gave a lengthy presentation on the county’s deer management program just for me and the other attendee, an Annandale resident who likes to fish for trout in the Accotink stream valley.
There was no special reason for expanding the archery program to the “Annandale cluster” other than the general problems caused by deer, including habitat destruction, deer/vehicle collisions, and the spread of Lyme disease from deer ticks, Sinclair said.
Only one hunting group has been approved for each park where hunting is allowed. A group called United Whitetail Archers of North America has been approved to hunt in the Annandale cluster.
The 2013-14 deer hunting season runs for more than five months, from Sept. 7 through Feb. 15. Deer hunting is allowed from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset six days a week. Hunting is not allowed on Sundays.
The parks will be open during this period, which means archers will be hunting deer at the same time as people will be in the parks walking dogs, birdwatching, running, and biking. That won’t be a problem, Everitts said, because the hunters will be “discreet and out of sight” and people enjoying the parks “won’t even be aware that hunters are there. It will be going on in the background.”
While county staff insist the use of archery to kill deer is safe, wildlife advocates have raised lots of concerns about the effectiveness and the potential risks to park users.
According to Sinclair, deer hunting isn’t allowed near athletic fields or playgrounds. Hunters are restricted to areas 50 feet from a trail and 100 feet from a park’s boundary.
The Animal Services Division sent notification letters about the archery program to about 10,000 people countywide, but the letters only went to people who live within two houses of an affected park. Signs are expected to be posted at park entrances and trail heads next week warning people of deer hunting.
Hunters must shoot deer from an elevated platform in the trees at least 15 feet off the ground. They are supposed to shoot deer that are no more than 20 yards away and must shoot downward with the ground as a backdrop. Hunters are required to carry special ID cards and display parking passes on the dashboards of their cars.
To be approved for the program, hunters must have “high standards of ethical conduct and marksmanship,” Everitts said. They have two chances a year to pass a test that consists of shooting three arrows into a nine-inch pie plate at 20 yards.
Each hunting group must have a person in charge responsible for submitting weekly hunting and incident reports and a hunting log. Incident reports cover lost arrows, wounded deer that run away, poaching, and any attempts to harass hunters or sabotage their activities. It’s a misdemeanor to interfere with hunting, Everitts said.
Hunters are also expected to report biological data, including the age, weight, and gender of deer and whether they are pregnant, lactating, or diseased. There is no restriction on killing young deer, but it’s preferable to target does rather than bucks. Last year, only around 30 bucks were killed, compared to around 546 does.
Hunters are responsible for removing any deer they kill—and are supposed to do it discreetly. They can keep the venison or donate it to Hunters for the Hungry.
The first year of the archery program, 2009-10, there were just two pilot sites with 50-plus hunters, and 75 deer were killed. The program was expanded to 11 sites, with 452 deer killed, in 2010-11 and to 20 sites with 714 deer killed in 2011-12. The annual wounding rate (deer who were shot but ran away) is between 3 and 4 percent.
A total of 697 deer were killed last year in 21 sites, including 41 deer killed in Accotink Stream Valley North/Eakin Park by a hunting group called Red’s Team and 20 deer in Wakefield Park/Americana Park by Northern Virginia Conservation Archers.
The main reason for the archery program is to reduce the deer population, which is way over the biological carrying capacity. With a healthy population of deer, there are 15 to 20 deer per square mile. In Fairfax County there are 60 to 100, and in some places, as many as 400 per square mile.
According to Everitts, deer are most active during the early morning and dusk, so that’s when most hunting will take place. They’re also more likely to be visible earlier in the day if it’s going to rain or snow, and they are more active during the breeding period, which runs from late October through late November.