Hunting in the state parks is a delicate undertaking, requiring an extreme concern for the safety of hunters and non-hunters alike. Especially in the suburban areas, where houses have sprung up along the sylvan borders and where concentrated recreation demands are greatest.
Plans by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' to conduct a managed, one-week shotgun hunt for reproductive does in Susquehanna State Park in Harford County this fall again raises these legitimate concerns.
At the same time, there is a demonstrated threat to the ecosystem and to the nearby human residences of far too many deer. State wildlife experts found an average 162 deer per square mile of forest and brush land in the park. About 20 white-tails per square mile is the limit, before the animals overfeed on trees and other useful vegetation.
Part of the problem is expanded human habitation, which has eradicated predators of the wild deer herds and provided them with food from backyard flower and vegetable gardens and from farming fields. The overabundance of deer has become a decided nuisance to many residents of the area, even though some of their neighbors deliberately feed the creatures for closer nature-watching.
Across Maryland, deer herds have been mushrooming to continuing levels of overpopulation, so there is nothing unusual about the problem in Susquehanna State Park, north of Havre de Grace.
The managed hunt proposal makes sense in these circumstances. The hunt will be limited to 22 licensed shotgun hunters each day; sites will be assigned and monitored by park staff. Park facilities will be used as deer checking and control points. Most importantly, the hunting ground will be confined to 683 acres in the northwest section of the park. The area will be closed to public entry during the six hunting days, beginning the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
This hunt won't likely do a lot to reduce the number of deer in the park, given their elusive nature and the restriction of nimrods to their assigned spots. But it will allow for a controlled effort to thin the herds, while providing opportunity for sport. Few will bag the additional two deer (above state limits) allowed to the park hunters.
But safety and protection of non-hunters remains the primary consideration. That's been proven in successful managed hunts at Gunpowder Falls and Fair Hill state parks in recent years. The plan deserves a fair chance at Susquehanna.