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Controversial Rock Creek deer hunt begins again

Thursday - 1/2/2014, 12:59pm  ET

deer, rock creek park
The white-tailed deer population in Rock Creek Park is well above ''healthy'' levels, National Park Service officials say. (WTOP File)

WASHINGTON - A controlled deer hunt in Rock Creek Park that sparked controversy, protests and a legal battle is returning.

"An overabundant white-tailed deer population has negatively impacted Rock Creek Park," says Park Superintendent Tara Morrison. "Their numbers have grown so large that they're eating nearly all the tree seedlings and preventing Rock Creek Park's forests from growing."

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the deer density right now is about 77 per square mile. Healthy levels are 15 to 20 deer per square mile. After reaching those healthy levels, NPS says they could try non-fatal methods of controlling the white-tailed deer population. Until then, officials say lethal action is the only way.

Federal sharpshooters working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture trimmed the deer population in March 2013 by 20.

This year, their goal is to take down 106 deer.

"These actions will take place after dark when the park is normally closed," Morrison says.

The Parks Service promises safety precautions will be in place, including road closures. Citing safety, officials would not confirm specific dates. They will only say the shooting will happen periodically between now and the end of March.

For the second year in a row, NPS plans to donate all usable meat. The 2013 hunt yielded about 600 pounds of venison.

Animal activists protested last year, saying there are workable alternatives to shooting the deer.

An animal rights group also took its arguments to the U.S. District Court in an effort to stop the hunt. A judge reaffirmed the Park Service's authority to kill the deer.

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