A Bethesda woman is suing Montgomery Parks with help from the well-known animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to stop the department’s first-ever managed deer hunt using crossbows.
Eilene Cohhn filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court late Thursday, claiming Montgomery Parks’ planned archery deer hunts set to start Friday morning in parts of two county parks violate Maryland’s animal cruelty statute.
Jeffrey Kerr, an attorney for PETA, said a judge on Thursday refused to issue a temporary restraining order against Montgomery Parks to delay the hunt until the lawsuit is heard.
Kerr also said attorneys for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), the parent agency for Montgomery Parks, refused to delay the hunt until the lawsuit goes in front of Judge Cynthia Callahan Friday morning.
An attorney for M-NCPPC and the head of the managed deer hunt program for Montgomery Parks couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday night.
Cohhn is a PETA member. Kerr said PETA shares her view that using crossbows to hunt deer could lead to deer that aren’t immediately killed and that could suffer from major crossbow-inflicted injuries.
“Hunting is only allowed by law if it’s the most humane method reasonably available,” Kerr said.
He pointed to the case of Cecil, the lion that garnered international headlines this summer. The lion was reportedly wounded in Zimbabwe by an American hunter with an arrow before being killed.
“This is going to take place in areas adjacent to residential areas. You’re going to have bloody, horribly injured deer ending up in peoples’ backyards,” Kerr said. “In this case, there are non-lethal methods available. Even shooting [the deer] with a gun would be more humane.”
The hunts could start as early as Friday morning, concurrent with the start of Maryland’s regulated archery season, in parts of Watts Branch Stream Valley Park in Potomac and Great Seneca Stream Valley Park in Germantown.
While announcing consideration of the pilot program in July, Parks wildlife ecologist Bill Hamilton said regulations against the discharge of firearms and limited access in those areas meant the department couldn’t do its standard deer sharpshooter program using firearms.
Parks has been doing managed deer hunt using firearms for 19 years to cull deer herds it says are growing to levels that present safety issues for humans and other deer.
A 2014 survey found a deer population of about 67-84 deer per square mile in Watts Branch Stream Valley Park. Montgomery Parks says deer-involved vehicle crashes, cases of Lyme disease and other deer-related impacts “are reduced to acceptable levels” when the population density is at 30 or fewer deer per square mile.
Individuals will take part in the archery deer hunts, though only if they are as members of established, insured hunting groups no larger than six people. Those groups will have to demonstrate hunter safety and education training and meet proficiency standards.
Hunting will happen from stationary tree stands with a limit on the distance of all shots. Parks will post signage near areas where the hunting is taking place. Kerr said it’s his understanding that the first hunts are set to start early Friday morning.
Montgomery Parks said it received about 400 comments from the public before approving the archery pilot program, with a slight majority in favor of the hunt.
When describing the program in July, Hamilton said it would be modeled after successful archery deer hunts in other communities and that there’s no record of injury to non-participants or pets in any of those jurisdictions.
In a press release announcing the approval of the pilot program, Montgomery Parks addressed concerns about wounding by stating: “The goal of every managed hunting program is to experience no wounding loss. With that in mind, the Department recognizes that perfection is unlikely.”
In her lawsuit, Cohnn claims studies show that the use of crossbows frequently fail to kill deer and leave them with wounds they can suffer from for days, weeks or even months.
“These wounded deer in turn wander into backyards, playgrounds, traffic and other public places,” reads the lawsuit, “where they are viewed with great distress by the unsuspecting public.”