Public split on deer controls, poll says

The Baltimore Sun

Despite complaints about deer eating suburban shrubs and farm crops, fears of Lyme disease and being involved in a vehicle accident with a deer, half of Marylanders questioned in a new wildlife management survey think the state's herd is just the right size.

That is part of the preliminary results of a poll of 1,200 residents this spring by Responsive Management that is part of the effort to update Maryland's 10-year deer-management plan, which helps determine hunting seasons and regulations.

The Department of Natural Resources will be holding a series of meetings over the next two weeks to get public comment about the plan.

"The meetings will be an open-house format, where the public can write down its comments on issues and tell the state how to revise the 10-year plan. We're just gathering information. We're not going into this with a set agenda," DNR biologist Steve Bittner said.

The poll divided the respondents into three groups of 400 each: the general public, landowners of 20 acres or more and hunters.

Just 8 percent of the general public was involved in a vehicle-deer crash in the past year, but 40 percent had a family member or friend who was, according to a draft version of the study.

Sixty-two percent of that same group said they would tolerate some degree of deer damage to shrubs, gardens or crops.

Three-quarters of the general public surveyed believe deer should be hunted, but half support the use of deer contraceptives, a technology that has not been approved yet by the federal government for widespread use.

But hunting opponents and those who favor deer contraceptive drugs over hunting are dismissing the results, saying the questions were biased and the survey was prepared by a pro-hunting pollster.

Responsive Management is a Virginia-based public opinion firm specializing in natural resource issues. It has conducted numerous studies for DNR and other wildlife agencies across the country.

"To have this group do the survey is to get the outcome you desire. It is illogical and a waste of money," said Enid Feinberg, a Baltimore County resident who led the opposition to hunting at Loch Raven and a member of the DNR deer-management task force.

She noted that Mark Duda, owner of the polling company, appeared at a sportsmen's meeting in Ocean City two years ago to explain how they could use polling to gain support for their causes.

For example, Feinberg said it is disingenuous to include as part of the general population survey group nearly 100 people - or 23 percent - who consider themselves hunters when just 3 percent of the state population hunts.

"Responsive Management had the lowest bid for a reason. They give [DNR] what it wants," she said.

Duda said there was no evidence to support a claim that the survey was biased and that Feinberg's criticism was because she didn't like the outcome.

"I can assure you the survey was conducted in a completely unbiased, neutral and professional manner and there was never any attempt by either Responsive Management or the DNR to do otherwise," he said in an e-mail.

The meeting in the Baltimore area will be at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at New Town High, 4931 New Town Blvd., Owings Mills. On Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m., DNR officials will be at Broadneck High, 1265 Green Holly Drive in Annapolis. The details of five other meetings can be found at www.dnr.state. under the heading "News."

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