Howard County officials announced yesterday that they will expand local deer hunts from two parks to five this fall to intensify efforts to reduce the population - a move praised by hunters but denounced by animal lovers.
A bow hunt first discussed last winter for Blandair, the 300- acre former Smith farm in east Columbia, will go forward in October, officials said. The two other new hunt sites are High Ridge Park along the Patuxent River in southern Howard and Alpha Ridge Park in the western county - all largely undeveloped parkland destined for recreational use.
Howard has sponsored heavily regulated hunts at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area since 1999, later including David W. Force Park in West Friendship. Combined with crop damage deer-hunting permits the county has obtained for farmers renting other undeveloped county sites, Gary Arthur, recreation and parks director, said the hunts have killed about 1,000 deer over the years. A 1999 county study said deer were causing 1,000 traffic accidents a year and $6 million in damage annually to residential and agricultural property - as well as more than 300 cases of Lyme disease a year.
"It's an effective way for the deer hunters to show community spirit. These are not trophy hunts, but deer-reduction programs," said Joe Webster, a veteran hunter who has worked on the county programs and participated in the hunts.
But Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, called bow hunting "a barbaric sport" that results in "an agonizing death" for the deer and is "too inefficient to significantly reduce deer populations."
She said it is "disappointing that Howard County continues its pro-hunting position" for culling the deer herd.
"The managed hunts employed in Howard County can only be termed recreational," she said.
Webster acknowledged he enjoys hunting, but said "people who participate do it for camaraderie as well as to curb the population." Alpha Ridge Park shows signs of deer damage to plants and trees from overfeeding, he said, and motorists' accidents with deer can cause serious injury and property damage. Hunting can help reduce that, he said.
"Our success in managing the deer population in Howard County has been proved over the past five accident-free seasons. We've significantly reduced deer populations in both the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area and at David Force Park," Arthur said.
The county chose the five parks based on an annual estimate of deer population made each March through an aerial survey conducted with a heat-detecting camera, along with community complaints and an examination of vegetation for deer-caused damage.
High Ridge Park is a 110-acre site on a bluff overlooking the Patuxent east of Route 32 near Savage. Alpha Ridge Park is a stream valley bordering the county landfill and a small developed recreational park area, Arthur said.
Hunting at Blandair, in heavily populated Columbia, will be limited to bow-hunting because of safety concerns.
Hunting is allowed only when school is in session, and hunters must be on elevated tree stands to ensure their shots are directed downward.
Arthur said surveys have been mailed to residents living near the parks, and a public meeting to discuss the program is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Recreation and Parks headquarters, 7120 Oakland Mills Road, Columbia.
The hunts will begin Oct. 15 and stretch sporadically through Feb. 17, Arthur said.