After nearly 25 years of discussion, Rockville is ready to bid adieu to its deer population.
The city’s mayor and council on Monday narrowly approved a pilot program allowing hunters to kill the sloe-eyed ruminants at the former Redgate Golf Course on Avery Road.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council Members Beryl Feinberg and Mark Pierzchala approved the plan. Council Member David Myles voted no, and Council Member Monique Ashton abstained.
From Sept. 6 to Nov. 30, 2020, approved participants can hunt the deer with compound bows or crossbows in hopes of lowering the population. The slender-legged mammals are an occasionally beloved — but mostly loathed — fixture of the city, where they’re blamed for spreading Lyme disease, decimating undergrowth and causing car crashes.
“We must cull the herd, and it must be with bow-hunting,” Rockville resident Mark Grossman said emphatically at the start of the council meeting. “I feel as though the city has been negligent on this issue for many years, and it’s time to act.”
Disgruntlement over the deer population has only grown since Rockville began considering the issue in 1995, said Steve Mader, the city’s superintendent of parks and facilities. Roughly 200 to 300 deer are struck by cars every year, and the city regularly receives complaints from suburban neighborhoods overrun by the animals.
In 2012, the city adopted a white-tailed-deer management plan, which involved little more than tracking the population, Mader said. But in early 2019, council members asked the Recreation and Parks Department to develop options for reducing the number of deer.
One alternative was birth control, a costly method that would involve tranquilizing female deer and administering contraception or sterilizing them. Similar programs have had mixed results in other suburban neighborhoods, and the price can run as high as $1,500 per doe.
In January, the council directed the department to develop a culling program with two significant caveats. One, no guns. Two, the program should take place on a significant tract of public land to reduce the risk of human injury.
Redgate was the best alternative, Mader said, both for its isolation and the fencing that surrounds most of the golf course. The site has been shuttered since the beginning of the year, when the private company managing the property abruptly ended its lease with the city.
The department plans to solicit contracts from nonprofit deer-management companies with experience in using archery to cull herds. Bows are less efficient than firearms, said Mader — an experienced hunter — but they’re also less dangerous in a suburban setting.
“In my mind, this is the next logical step,” he said on Monday. “Either we go ahead and do this, or we start from the beginning and don’t do anything at all.”
A survey of six Rockville parks found an average of 130 to 160 deer per square mile, according to data from city spokeswoman Marylou Berg. Deer have an outsized effect on the city’s police force, which is frequently tasked with managing deer-related incidents.
Grossman said he recently saw a police officer shoot a buck that wandered into his neighborhood with a broken leg.
It’s a fairly common occurrence in Rockville, Deputy Chief Laura Lanham said in a phone interview on Tuesday. Officers are frequently dispatched to euthanize injured animals.
During mating season, officers sometimes respond to several calls a week, she added. In forums leading up to the city’s elections in November, several council candidates said euthanization was the more humane option for deer, which often die of starvation or malnutrition.
Ashton, a first-time council member, was one of two candidates who preferred giving contraception to female deer. She expressed concern on Monday when Mader said the program would be a success even if only 10 to 15 deer were eliminated from the site.
“I thought we were trying to address some of the issues like Lyme disease, like car crashes,” she said. “So, are we saying that we’re likely not going to be able to address those issues?”
Mader said the pilot was a way to assess the feasibility of an ongoing culling program as part of the city’s deer management strategy. It was unlikely to significantly affect the population, he said, but it would determine if hunting could make a difference over time.
Myles, another new legislator, had his own concerns about the sustainability of the program. He pointed out that Redgate was being considered for residential development, which would prevent widespread hunting if new homes were built on the property.
The city already had limited tracts of available public land, Myles added, and he had reservations about allowing hunting near residential neighborhoods.
“I’m just not sure that this is the right method, long-term, that will work in this city,” he said before voting no on the proposal.
But fourth-term Council Member Mark Pierzchala said culling the herd was one of the only ways to address the city’s exploding deer population. Resident attitudes toward the animals shifted when the animals became a public safety hazard, he said.
“People are saying, ‘Just tell me when to clear out, and I’ll clear out,’” Pierzchala said. “They’ve really become a problem for the city.”