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This year's deer hunt at refuge is canceled; Robey wants to review report on situation throughout county


Surrounded by suburban Columbia, the deer in Middle Patuxent Environmental Area need not fear the added perils of hunters this winter, Howard County Executive James N. Robey has decided.

A scheduled winter hunt to thin the ranks of the refuge's hungry herbivores was canceled yesterday to await a report on the county's general deer situation, Robey said.

"In all honesty, hunting would not be my method of choice in an urban area like Howard County," said Robey, a former county police chief. The bottom line, Robey says, is no hunting in the environmental area until next winter at the earliest.

The decision was made despite concern about deer damage and a successful hunt last winter that culled 65 deer from a herd of more than 400 that county Recreation and Parks officials say is eliminating most of the underbrush in the 300-acre area.

Hunters are angry, animal-rights leaders are happy and most others are in the middle on the decision.

"Biologically, yes, this will set back the control measures necessary to bring the [deer] population under control," said Robert A. Beyer, deputy director of wildlife and heritage for the state Department of Natural Resources. The deer are eliminating small animals' habitat and are safety hazards on area roads, he said.

Despite that, the state doesn't oppose Robey's decision, he said, knowing the executive is new and wants time to consider issues.

County recreation officials agree.

"It's not really as contentious an issue as last year. We'll just wait a year and see what we can do next season," said John Byrd, chief of the county's Bureau of Parks and Services.

Josh Heltzer, vice chairman of the River Hill Village Board, said, "We want a deer management program. The deer are destroying the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. A safely managed hunt appeared to be really the only solution."

Robey's take on the often emotional issue produced anger and dismay from hunters yesterday but satisfaction from a county animal-rights leader.

"There is a horrendous deer problem in this area," said Mark Wilson, a Clarksville hunter who was among 26 people allowed to participate in the hunt last winter. The county screened 125 applicants to get the most experienced, safest group and allowed hunting between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. for a two-week period.

"It's a shame that the Howard County executive can't listen to his parks people," Wilson said, noting that the undergrowth is being destroyed and deer droppings litter many suburban yards in River Hill, Hickory Ridge and Harper's Choice villages.

Joe Webster, another hunter, said he was "really looking forward" to hunting at Patuxent again this winter.

'No other way'

"It helps Howard County residents control their deer damage," he said. "Every doe we remove is three less mouths to feed next summer or fall," he said, referring to fawns often born as twins.

"There is no other way to control deer overpopulation except by lethally removing them from the habitat," he said.

Tom Greenbank, the Highland operator of a business called Dead Pet Pickup of Howard County, said he collected nearly 500 dead deer hit by vehicles on Howard County roads -- not state highways -- last year. That's 125 more than in 1997, he said, adding to the impression that Maryland's deer population -- estimated at 250,000 last year -- is growing.

One who likes Robey's decision is Martha Gagnon, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, who said she approves and doesn't believe too many deer are in the county.

Risk in guns

It is too risky, she said, to allow hunters to fire guns so close to homes and public areas, especially along Trotter Road, west of the refuge.

"All of this is contrived by humans," she said, arguing that the state brought deer into the area.

She said that specially designed reflectors along roadways and mesh netting to protect yard shrubs could solve the safety and nuisance problems.

"I'm not really in favor of killing animals just for killing them. We need to be more humane," she said, questioning the motives of hunters who decry environmental damage to underbrush.

"We cannot take the approach of just mowing down a problem," she said.

Pub Date: 1/05/99

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