NPS Considers Introducing Bears, Wolves to Control Deer in D.C.?

The National Park Service recently shared plans to control the deer population in the D.C. area and reduce the number of deer by 15 to 20 percent over the next 10 years. According to WTOP, officials are considering adding wolves or bears to the parklands to introduce natural predators.

“What’s happening is [the deer are] not facing any real predation,” said Sean McGinty, an NPS spokesperson. 

Deer have flourished in National Capital Parks – East with “low levels of disease, gentle winters, favorable habitats and vegetation in and around the parks, and no natural predators,” according to the NPS. An official Deer Management Plan for D.C. and Maryland parks under NPS management has not yet been implemented, but the high density of animals in the area makes one necessary. A 2021 NPS assessment showed an average deer population of almost 200 deer observed per night and nearly 175 deer per square mile in recent years. This concentration of animals raised habitat and human-wildlife conflict concerns among wildlife officials. 

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“Within forests, deer can significantly reduce forest regeneration by damaging and eating tree seedlings and saplings,” said McGinty. “Over time, this can degrade forests and the habitat they provide for other animals and plants.”

Adding natural predators to the area would theoretically help reduce the number of deer, although McGinty told WTOP that there isn’t really enough wilderness for black bears in the area. Adding wolves or bears to the cull deer population would be only part of the solution if implemented, he said. He did not mention any of the red tape involved with trying to introduce an already controversial predator to the nation’s capital. Hunting is not allowed in national parks, and many of the parks targeted for deer reduction are managed under the National Capital Parks umbrella.

Additional management measures would include using trained marksmen and biologists to safely reduce the deer population in the area. This program is not expected interfere with existing deer hunting licenses or deer seasons, and venison collected from any culling will be donated to local food pantries. The plan would impact Anacostia Park, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, Fort Mahan, Fort Dupont, Fort Davis, Fort Chaplin, Fort Stanton, Fort Ricketts, Fort Greble, Battery Carroll, and Shepherd Parkway in Washington D.C. NPS also laid out plans for Maryland parks, including Fort Washington Park, Fort Foote, Piscataway Park, Oxon Cove Park, Harmony Hall, Greenbelt Park, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and Suitland Parkway.

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