Deer Must be Managed in Arlington: Residents Asked to Weigh In

To Kill, Sterilize, Repel, or Contain?

You may enjoy the natural beauty of seeing a doe leap across the lawn, showing off her white tail, or a spotted fawn trembling on rickety legs, or the three-point buck raising his fine rack, but the reality of the deer overpopulation in Arlington is not pretty. With 124 deer per square mile in 2021 (and sometimes as many as 339), when the correct density is about 15-20 deer per square mile, the natural woodlands and forests of the area are being eaten away. The deer themselves are at risk for weakened health in herds, disease and bacterial infections, and motorists at risk because deer have to seek habitats, often driven out of hunger to eat newly planted native trees, expensive landscaping and gardens across highways and streets. We are at the point where the deer have to be managed. 

Enter Arlington County’s deer management proposal. Similar programs have already happened in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Montgomery counties. Since the options don’t allow for a price comparison, one can only speculate on what each option costs in relation to the other. 

Residents have a chance to weigh in on the options at a town hall meeting on July 11 or on line. 

Here are the options, in layman’s terms: 

* Professional Sharpshooter deployment: it has advantages such as taking place at night, using sound muffling of shooting, and non-lead bullets. The county does not mention the cost, but presumably it is not cheap to hire the professionals. Food from the hunting is provided to area food banks. Deer are immediately taken out of the area in one season. 

* Sterilization: Using wildlife biologists to shoot darts to put female deer to sleep, surgically sterilizing them, and supervising the doe’s reentry into the forest, it costs about 1200 dollars a doe. It has advantages of not killing the deer, but takes about four years to actually reduce the population of deer to 45 percent of the original herds. Presumably other healthcare could take place to make sure the herd is healthy. This is an experimental program which has not been State approved. 

* Voluntary archery hunting of deer. Some of this is already going on, with residents shooting deer in back yards with bow and arrow. While there have been no safety incidents, it may be difficult to isolate deer in places where no residents are using the park at the same time. Hunters must qualify and license. Meat is provided to food banks. Although the county doesn't say so, presumably a less accurate arrow could cause the deer more pain by not killing it immediately, but this is already the case for permitted hunting through the decades. 

* Deer repellent: it works but has to be reapplied to plants and trees after every rain and does not solve major problems of deer overpopulation: diminished health of the herd, tick borne illness, collisions, etc. 

* Fencing: fences work but are prohibitively expensive and interfere with the natural movement of other animals through the forest. Deer aren’t reduced, just prevented from entering certain areas. 

Animal Welfare League of Arlington argues that a humane solution is possible.

“Last month, Arlington County Parks and Recreation recommended establishing a sharpshooting program to reduce the deer population by culling,” AWLA said in a post

“While the County’s deer project team has done a thorough job addressing this issue, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington disagrees with the project team’s recommendation to sharpshoot up to 125 deer in Arlington’s parks professionally [Parks and Recreation, Deer Management Project Online Engagement #2].

“Our goal throughout this process has been to provide context and an additional perspective to an incredibly complex and controversial issue, knowing that reasonable minds can differ. To that end, AWLA firmly believes that sharpshooting 125 deer, which would account for over 40% of the latest deer population, is a disproportionate and excessive measure given the number of reported deer and the browsing levels in Arlington County.”

Deer have been part of the environment for centuries. Without natural predators and hunters, they will continue to populate geometrically. The County is doing what it needs to do: seek residents’ views on how to manage this problem. For more information, or to weigh in on this plan, see: