Maryland Native Plant Society supports your recently announced capital budget proposal to increase funds for needed improvements and maintenance in our state parks. But we want to call your attention to another, even more effective and likely less costly, way to improve Maryland’s parks. Nothing is causing more harm to our state parks, forests and natural areas than the exploding population of white-tailed deer. In many parks, the native shrub and herbaceous plant layer has been virtually eliminated. When the large trees in many of our forests fall and die, they are not being replaced by younger trees because white-tailed deer eat the tree seedlings and saplings before they have a chance to mature. You can walk miles in our woods and not see a single oak, hickory or maple sapling. Our forests are dying a slow death.
The overpopulation of white-tailed deer encourages the proliferation of non-native invasive plants that the deer do not eat. These non-native plants fail to provide food for the animals, birds, amphibians, and insects that depend on native plants for food and shelter. Thus, the entire forest ecosystem is harmed. In addition, deer threaten public health and safety by carrying Lyme disease and causing thousands of vehicle collisions annually in Maryland alone.
Studies have shown that the white-tailed deer population must be reduced to fewer than 20 deer per square mile for forests to regenerate. Yet the deer population in some areas of Maryland, such as Baltimore County, is estimated at more than eighty deer per square mile.
Despite the destruction that white-tailed deer are causing, they are still protected by a regulatory system established decades ago when the deer population was sparse. State law and policy should now be updated. Park managers should be permitted undefined and encouraged through adequate funding undefined to control deer populations through managed hunting. In addition, white-tailed deer could, like the fish and crustaceans of the Chesapeake Bay, be managed as an economic resource. To this end we propose that the commercial sale of wild-hunted venison be permitted under an appropriate regulatory system that addresses public safety and balances the interests of recreational and commercial hunters. We believe this would be a practical way to reduce the deer population to a healthy level while at the same time providing revenue for our licensed hunters, and healthy high-protein, low-fat food for the people of Maryland.
Thank you for your consideration of our view.
Kirsten Johnson, President
Ms. Kirsten Johnson
550 W. University Parkway
Baltimore MD 21210
Dear Ms. Johnson:
Thank you for your email to Governor Martin O’Malley regarding deer management in Maryland’s State Parks. Governor O’Malley has reviewed your email and asked me to respond on his behalf.
I appreciate you taking the time to express your support for the proposed increase in capital funding for State parks. With the support of the General Assembly in approving the Governor’s proposal, we will be able to address some long-standing capital improvement needs and look forward to the enhancements they will bring.
I was interested to read your description of the damage deer are doing to many of our public lands. We have been well aware of the impacts caused by too many deer and have been working very hard to address this issue for over two decades. As you may remember, some of our early efforts to control deer on State parks resulted in significant protests from the general public. We met this resistance with a goal of education and compromise and have since moved to an era where the necessity for deer control is understood, and accepted, by most citizens.
As a result, we now have managed hunting for deer in most of the parks where this activity is necessary and appropriate. While there may be the need for additional hunting on some tracts, we certainly feel our management philosophies have evolved to be consistent with the growing deer population. Consequently, the deer hunting opportunities on our State parks are very liberal, as we agree that managed hunting is the best means to manage white-tails. Gone are the days when hunting in a State park was considered an anomaly.
Looking at deer harvests across our State, it is evident that hunters are doing a good job as deer managers. That harvest now includes far more antlerless deer (does) than antlered deer (bucks), a significant change from just a decade ago. Taking more does is the most effective way to reduce the herd, and as a result, we have seen the statewide deer herd drop since peaking in 2002. Our deer managers continue to make changes to liberalize hunting regulations to increase harvest and the good news is we have turned the corner and our deer herd is no longer growing.
Your suggestion for establishing a commercial outlet for wild venison is not a new one, but it certainly is an uncommon one. As you may know, more and more people are looking at wild venison as being a healthy, sustainable and local source of food. I can point to a number of people that have taken up the sport of deer hunting, not because it was a family tradition, but because it provides an excellent source of food with an ecologically desirable outcome – fewer deer. The Department of Natural Resources has several programs in place to keep this trend growing; we look forward to adding to our deer hunting community every chance we get.
I will give your suggestion some real consideration and have passed it on to our deer managers. State park managers will continue to review their deer hunting programs with the goal of getting our herds where they belong and/or keeping them there. Healthy forests are not just pleasant places to visit, they are critical for the well being of our watersheds, wildlife, plant communities and overall ecology.
Once again, thank you for your email. Governor O’Malley appreciates hearing from you, and on his behalf, I thank you for your interest in this very important issue. If you need further assistance, please feel free to discuss this matter with Pete Jayne, Associate Director for Game Management for the Wildlife and Heritage Service, at 410-827-8612 ext 104, or email email@example.com. He will be happy to assist you.
John R. Griffin
cc: Paul Peditto, Director, Wildlife and Heritage Service
Peete Jayne, Associate Director, Wildlife and Heritage Service
Nita Settina, Superintendent, Maryland Park Service