2021 | Government

Rockville reports 21 deer culled in pilot program

PETA criticizes effort as ‘futile, cruel and unacceptable’

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This article was updated at 8:54 a.m. on May 6, 2021, to correct a reference to Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton.

A small-scale pilot program in Rockville last year resulted in 21 white-tailed deer being culled in an attempt to help control the population in the city.

City officials had discussed potential deer management methods since 2010 with federal and state agencies, as well as other groups.

The pilot only took place in the John Hayes Memorial Forest through a bow-hunting contract with Montgomery County Whitetail Solutions. There were three phases of the program, beginning in late November and ending in mid-January.

Of the 21 deer culled, 19 were does and two were button bucks. The 19 does were donated to provide about 790 pounds of venison.

The deer were culled through 481 hours of hunting.

On April 26, the Rockville City Council received the results of the pilot program and was given options for further action.

At the meeting, Jenni James, a litigation manager for the PETA Foundation, urged the council to end the program, calling it “futile, cruel and unacceptable.”

Steve Mader, the superintendent of parks and facilities for the city, told the council that officials received 426 emails during the event opposing the pilot program. Ten people who sent emails identified themselves as Rockville residents. Some emails came from as far away as Australia, Mader said.

“We had one case of destruction where somebody went in and damaged a bunch of [the contractor’s] tree stands, game cameras,” he said. “They did it at night. They were caught on camera and [the contractor] filed a police report, but I don’t think they were able to do anything with that. But it was vandalism of somebody else’s property.”

Mader said there was no impact to any other species in the park, and no humans were injured.

Deer vehicle incidents in the city have steadily risen since 2008. The highest number of incidents — 228 — was recorded last year.

The options that staff members provided to the council included:
● Ending the culling program
● Continuing the program within the memorial forest
● Expanding the program to include additional parks
● Changing City Code to allow culling programs on large private parcels, like golf courses
● Considering a sterilization/fertility pilot project
● Considering a pilot program that Howard County is currently working on. Howard County installed feeding stations. While deer eat, a roller applies insecticide to their backs to help prevent ticks.

Council Member Beryl Feinberg proposed that the council expand the program to other parks, allow culling on large private parcels, and consider a similar program to Howard County’s.

But no other council members seconded her motion, so it failed.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said she would also support expanding the program to other parks and exploring Howard County’s program. She said she thought the council should consider large private parcel culling at a later date.

As mayor, Newton cannot make or second motions. No one else made a motion.

The council did not reach a decision on what to do with the program. It asked for staff members to provide more information on the various options, including cost and feasibility.

James, from the PETA Foundation, said the program wouldn’t stop deer from eating shrubs or being hit by cars.

“What you were doing was creating a hobby hunt,” she said, adding that the program was a recreational opportunity at the public’s expense.

“Bow hunting is cruel. Bow hunters aim for the lungs and the deer die from bleeding to death, if they die at all. … The fact that bow hunting even involves tracking the wounded shows how much suffering this entails,” she said.

James said more humane methods include feeding bans and fencing around neighborhoods and roads.

But council members rejected the idea of putting fences up around neighborhoods and roads.

Council Member Mark Pierzchala defended the pilot program. He said city officials consulted various state and federal officials about deer management options for years before the pilot program was implemented.

“Ecologically speaking, they’re a disaster,” he said of deer, adding that the population has wiped out the undergrowth in forests and affected water quality.

Feinberg said it is unrealistic to ask every residential homeowner to fence in their properties.

Newton also said fences weren’t ideal.

“The last thing we want is people to be closed off behind fences throughout the city,” she said. “You can’t fence all the streets that we have. We have several major roads through the city of Rockville, as well as ulterior roads, which would be impossible to fence.”

Council Member David Myles said that although there is a deer problem, archery culling was not the most effective way to deal with them.

Closing parks for significant amounts of time for the culling isn’t feasible, he said.

“Nor do I think we have the space. Just geographically, it’s a very built-up city throughout most of it,” he said. “Though we relatively have more park area than most urban cities, we’d be hard-pressed to do archery or sharp-shooting in a way that is safe for our neighbors. That’s … one of the primary reasons I didn’t support it then. I don’t think it’s a feasible way moving forward.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.