I hope you’ll excuse the use of the phrase “gun down” in the title, but in this instance it’s literally the case. At two national parks in Maryland they are heading into what may prove to be a particularly brutal winter with an excess of whitetail deer on the properties. And by “excess” they are talking about hundreds more animals than the acreage can support. The solution is already prompting the usual outraged response from some environmentalists because it involves having federal sharpshooters come in and thin the herd in a very big way. (Fox News)

Federal government sharpshooters will target hundreds of white-tailed deer at two Civil War battlefields in Maryland this December, launching a multi-year program aimed at curbing damage to forests and plants, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

The Agriculture Department sharpshooters plan to kill 243 deer at Antietam National Battlefield and 278 at Monocacy National Battlefield from December through March under a program the park service approved in 2014. Both parks have deer population densities more than 10 times greater than the commonly accepted sustainable density of 15 to 20 per square mile, park service spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.

The government will donate all suitable deer meat to food banks, she said.

I can understand how the image of National Park Service sharpshooters blasting away at hundreds of deer could be putting some folks off. (Of course, we might first be taken aback by the revelation that the National Park Service has sharpshooters to begin with.) But this program has been going on for more than five years now and it’s being done for a reason.

Anyone who lives in the northeast (and many other places, I’m sure, but I’m speaking from direct experience here) can tell you that the deer herds can get seriously out of control after a mild winter. Last year’s was particularly calm with only four significant snowfalls in my area. In a normal to heavy winter a lot of the deer die off either through exposure and lack of food or predation. But in a very quiet winter the herds aren’t cut down noticeably and the following spring there is an explosion of new fawns. Last week while I was out for my morning walk with a fairly heavy fog covering the neighborhood I came across a small herd of seven deer on a neighbor’s lawn and in the adjoining street. And we’re talking about a spot that is at least fifteen blocks away from the edge of the nearest reasonably large wooded section. The road kill numbers and automobile wrecks are going to be serious this winter, I assure you.

What alternative does the government really have? They’re advertising this as a way to protect the local flora and it’s true that hungry deer can tear an area up, but it’s also done for the health of the herd. Relocating them isn’t really an option. It would cost a fortune and you’d need to find a place that could accept literally hundreds of new deer when they’re probably also inundated at the moment. At least the park service is getting someone to butcher the deer and donate the meat to help feed the hungry. I grew up in a house where we ate as much venison as beef in any given year and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.

So let’s try to keep the protests to a minimum here. This isn’t cruelty and most of those deer would have died over the winter anyway, generally in a more lingering and horrible fashion.

whitetaildeer