2016 | News

PETA Loses Suit To Halt County’s Bowhunting Deer Kill

Appeal possible as judge rules crossbows don't violate state cruelty code

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A judge ruled Thursday that Montgomery County’s program to reduce the county’s deer population with bowhunting does not violate Maryland’s cruelty code, an animal rights group said Friday.

Eilene Cohhn, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, sued the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in an effort to halt the plan.

Cohhn and PETA believe crossbows could injure but not kill the deer, forcing them to suffer from their injuries.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Salant issued a summary judgment against Cohhn and PETA, according to online court records.

The county parks department has hunted deer for 19 years because their numbers present health and safety issues. A 2014 survey found 67 to 84 deer per square mile in Watts Branch Stream Valley Park in Potomac. The parks department says deer-involved vehicle crashes and cases of Lyme disease drop to acceptable levels when the population density is 30 or fewer deer per square mile.

In seeking public comment on the archery hunts, residents have said they want expanded efforts to manage the deer population, said Bill Hamilton, principal natural resources specialist for Montgomery Parks.

“We have determined archery managed hunts are a safe, lawful and effective way to address these requests in areas where firearms would create a greater risk,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton acknowledged deer kills are an emotional issue for some.

“We respect the opinions of all organizations and individuals, and recognize the issue of deer management is one that many people are passionate about,” he said.

PETA attorney Jeffrey Kerr released this statement Friday morning:

“Although the judge agreed that slaughtering deer with high-powered crossbows is not ‘the most humane method reasonably available’ to kill deer, he has allowed the county's cruel program to continue, leaving more Montgomery County deer to endure slow, agonizing deaths from steel arrows that tear through their flesh and rarely kill them outright.”

He also noted that PETA pointed out that in the last year, the hunt injured at least 91 deer. “Twelve were young animals, three were lactating mothers, and seven were wounded but never found and likely experienced lingering and painful deaths,” he said.

Kerr said Cohhn is considering an appeal.

“The county should live and let live, not kill and tear deer families apart,” Kerr’s statement said.

In an interview when the suit was filed, Kerr said, “Hunting is only allowed by law if it’s the most humane method reasonably available.”

“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 an interview with Bethesda Beat. “In this case, there are nonlethal methods available. Even shooting [the deer] with a gun would be more humane.”

Montgomery County proceeded with the bowhunting program because of limited access and regulations prohibiting the discharging of firearms Watts Branch Stream Valley Park and Great Seneca Stream Valley Park in Germantown.