On the 3ed of December, Park Police barricaded Beach Drive and a location on Oregon Ave giving access to the opposite side of the woods W of Beach Drive, and had initially barricaded several other locations. It appears that they were shooting deer between Beach Drive and Oregon Ave, as their deployment matched previous deer killing sessions.
In the past, the deer have been shot by USDA’s “wildlife services” (WS)division. WS mostly focusses on killing predators, but they also kill deer when the extermination of predators (no wolves left in Rock Creek etc) leads to a real or apparent out of balance condition with herbivores. USDA has not been successful in reducing actual deer numbers however, as more deer have been visible from the road this past summer than ever before in living memory. It is known that does respond to reduced population pressure by having multiple births instead of single fawns, thus deer are defeating kill rates in excess of 50% of them being shot some years.
In Yellowstone, the re-introduction of wolves changed the behavior of elk in ways that reduced overbrowsing of streambank areas far out of proportion to the small number of elk the wolves actually hunted and ate. Without the wolves, the elk clustered in stream areas and stayed there, thus overbrowsing small parts of the forest while leaving the rest of it untouched. When wolves returned, the elk spread out, ending the overbrowsing and greatly increasing carrying capacity. Human-managed culls have no such effect. In Rock Creek behavior changes in deer caused by the culls are often a few days of deer avoiding the entire park, showing up in yards and on roads instead, followed by a return to previous behavior and increased reproduction.
Speaking of the roads, it appears that the main intended beneficiary of the deer “culls” in Rock Creek Park is intended to be car drivers worried about the impact of killing a deer with their car on their precious bodywork. The behavior of most of the park’s deer is such that it takes inattentive driving or driving far too fast to hit one. A car driving at the 25mph theoretical speed limit or the 35mph typical traffic speed has a good chance of being able to stop, assuming the driver isn’t buried in their phone. A driver doing 50mph on the other hand facing a last-second deer crossing on any road, on the other hand has some tricky maneuvering on their hands that can be made to work some but not all of the time.
Beach Drive is not a road with a 50mph speed limit and routine 60mph traffic that can’t maneuver around most of the deer. The smaller park roads sure as hell are not! Thus, we see the deer should not be the problem on this kind of slow speed road, and most of the deer-car collision on this kind of road involve drivers consenting to the risk. The deer of course are not asked.
The Park Service denies this is all about well-heeled drivers in their BMW’s and SUV’s and is supposed to protect the forest. Aside from deer numbers actually going up from the culling, Rock Creek’s native deer are not even the main threat to trees, young or otherwise. Several studies have found that invasive, non-native, tree-strangling vines are killing far more trees than deer in Rock Creek Park. Thus, if NPS was serious about protecting the forest, they would trade in the rifles of Wildlife “Services” for machetes and set to work on those invasive vines. The first year of this is tough, the second nearly as difficult, but after that only maintainace “de-vining” should be needed.
Beach Drive barricaded N of Military Road about 9:30PM Dec 3