Sharpshooters employed to thin out the deer population around Maryland's Camp David retreat
The move to reduce the deer population comes after nearly three decades of research and opposition from animal-rights advocates.
Acting Park Superintendent Sean Denniston said the hunt in Catoctin Mountain Park began Monday afternoon and will continue most weekday afternoons and nights through mid-March. Large sections of the park will be periodically closed, he said.
Park officials say the operation is intended to cull an outsize herd that has devoured so many saplings and low-hanging tree branches that the health of both the forest and the deer have suffered.
The estimated deer density of 123 per square mile is about eight times that of healthy forest ecosystems, Denniston said.
There has even been concern about the security and seclusion of the presidential retreat hidden within the 5,770-acre park, a former park superintendent told The Associated Press in 1997. One of the park's functions is to serve as a buffer for Camp David.
Denniston said the deer management plan is separate from Camp David operations.
The shooting will be done by three U.S. Agriculture Department sharpshooters, because public hunting is banned in the park. Denniston said he expects them to kill 200 to 300 deer this year.
A plan approved in April projects the extermination of more than 2,000 deer over 15 years to reach and maintain the desired density.
However, Denniston said the measure of success will be forest growth, not deer density.
"The indicator of whether the plan is successful is when we get to the point where the forest is showing healthy regeneration," he said.
The park service said it will donate the meat to the Baltimore-based Maryland Food Bank, which expressed gratitude for the gift.
The Humane Society of the United States has advocated non-lethal measures, including contraception, to reduce the herd size. On Monday, John Hadidian, the group's director of urban wildlife programs, predicted park managers would have difficulty justifying the killing.
"The park service has goals and objectives and the question now is, is it reasonable to believe they're going to meet those goals and objectives?" Hadidian said.
-- Associated Press
Photo of Camp David / Getty Images