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OUTDOORS: Park Service shuns hunters in its deer-thinning project

THE NATIONAL PARK Service needs to kill nearly 3,000 deer on three nearby national battlefields. Deer are causing major damage to vegetation. The draft management plan out for public comment will use “sharpshooters” at an estimated cost of $1.067 million to taxpayers as its centerpiece solution.

The battlefields—Manassas in Virginia and Monocacy and Antietam in Maryland—have deer populations estimated at several times the desirable capacity of the land. In the latest 2011 count, estimated deer densities were 131 per square mile at Antietam, 236 at Monocacy and 172 at Manassas. Sustainable densities are estimated at about 15–25 per square mile, the plan states. Manassas is targeted for a 1,600-deer reduction.

Bryan Gorsira, an NPS natural resources manager involved in drafting the plan, said the meat from deer killed by sharpshooters would be donated or disposed of.

Birth control and fence construction also were considered. Hunting is not being considered as an option, according to Gorsira.

Gorsira explained Congress would have to pass a law specifically authorizing hunting, as a discretionary or mandated activity, at one or more of the battlefield parks. He said NPS management policies specifically prohibit hunting in parks.

The NPS policy also stipulates that where “hunting activity is not mandated but is authorized on a discretionary basis under federal law, it may take place only after the service has determined that the activity is an appropriate use and can be managed consistent with sound resource management principles.”

Several state and federal officials with whom I spoke about this issue feel the NPS is decidedly biased against hunting as a solution to wildlife management problems. Gorsira confirmed that the NPS made no effort to get the prohibition on hunting lifted for the purposes of this deer management plan.

SEMANTICS

The term “hunting” is a bloody shirt easily waved by some activist groups. Any talk of hunting in a park becomes a fund-raising tool for such organizations.

Yet Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation Vice-President of Policy Gary Kania wonders how organized hunts and organized culling operations substantially differ, except for cost. Each operates safely using tight risk-management protocols.

In Colorado, where elk were overpopulating Rocky Mountain National Park, the Colorado Wildlife Commission passed in 2006 a resolution calling for hunters to be part of the management solution. In 2008, the park service began implementing a 20-year plan to cull the herd by hundreds of animals using park employees and qualified volunteers.

The draft plan for the three local battlefield parks basically states that qualified volunteers aren’t up to snuff when dealing with the deer on the thousands of acres being addressed here.

Interestingly, in the elk management plan the NPS carefully tried to differentiate between hunting and culling, coming up with its own definition of hunting as “a recreational activity that includes elements of fair chase and personal take of the meat. Hunting is administered by the state fish and game agency.” That doesn’t match the dictionary definitions.

Culling is defined by NPS as “a conservation tool to reduce animal populations that have exceeded the carrying capacity of their habitat.” They add culling is efficient, humane and done under controlled circumstances.

For many people, though, that culling definition sounds like organized hunting.

Asks Kania: “Wouldn’t it be better to save the million dollars and invest in a new trail head, or kiosk, or some other feature that would enhance the visitor experience versus paying sharpshooters?”

SURROUNDED BY HUNTS

The park service seems to be alone in terms of government reluctance in this region to include hunting as a deer management solution.

Terry Lasher manages the 444-acre Conway/Robinson State Forest in Prince William County, near Manassas Battlefield. He said he’s offered assistance to the park service and shared details about their safely managed hunts, which take about 35 deer annually and only cost about $200 for support materials. Hunters purchase a $15 state forest stamp.

“Hunters, to us, are a management tool,” Lasher said. “We’re more about the cheapest, simplest solution.”

The draft plan for battlefield deer management is open for public comment through Sept. 27. Said Gorsira: “I do not know about the potential for changes to park management and policy but certainly people can write their congressman concerning laws they wish to be changed.”

To see the plan and comment, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/battlefielddeerplan.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e–mail at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

For more on outdoors things to do around Fredericksburg and the region, sign up for The Free Lance-Star’s newest e-newsletter, Mighty Outdoors, at http://fredericksburg.com/topics/mightyoutdoors/about.html

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/sports/2013/09/18/outdoors-park-service-shuns-hunters-in-its-deer-thinning-project/