WASHINGTON - Plans to reduce the number of deer in Rock Creek Park are on hold until March while lawyers battle over the fate of the deer in court.
Several D.C. residents sued the National Park Service in October seeking to stop the park from using sharpshooters to reduce the herd. They would prefer the park use non-lethal options, including contraception, to reduce the number of deer, saying it is the first time the government has allowed the killing of wildlife in the park since it was established in 1890.
The U.S. government has agreed to put the deer cull on hold until March 15. A court hearing is scheduled for March 4.
Jessica Almy, an attorney representing the residents, tells WTOP that the two sides agreed to a quick schedule.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County is using sharpshooters to reduce the deer population in the county-run Rock Creek Stream Valley Park.
Surveys conducted in 2011 show there are about 375 deer in the federally-run Rock Creek Park, or about 80 per square mile. The National Park Service wants to reduce that to 15 to 20 per square mile.
A public comment for the deer reduction plan ended several years ago. The park service plans to use rifles and archery to kill the deer. Bait would be used to attract the deer to specific areas so they could be removed.
The deer overpopulation in the park is harming native plants and hindering the ability of the park's forested areas to regenerate, the park services says.
The government filed an 83-page brief asking a judge to rule on the park service's behalf and to dismiss the case. The brief argues the lethal deer culling plan is needed to ensure the park service manages all resources within the park and that the federal law creating the park does not prohibit killing the deer to reduce the size of the herd.
But the residents, who live near the park, argue that the plan violates the park's statutory duties to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein" and to retain them in as natural condition as possible. Their suit also contends that the deer culling would reduce residents' use and enjoyment of the park.