Western Maryland National Parks Reduce Deer Populations to Protect Natural and Historic Landscapes

FREDERICK, Md.—Three Western Maryland national parks this month concluded operations to reduce overabundant white-tailed deer that threaten the historic scenery of two Civil War battlefields and a 5,810-acre hardwood mountain forest.  This season, more than eight tons of venison were donated to the local Maryland Food Bank, the Thurmont Food Bank, the Help Hotline and the Lunch Place soup kitchen.

Overabundant deer populations do immense damage to vegetation and eat nearly all tree seedlings so forests cannot sustain themselves. Deer also damage crops, which are a key component of the historic setting. Crop farming was prevalent on the battlefields during the Civil War, and the legislation creating the parks requires the National Park Service (NPS) to preserve these landscapes.

Antietam National Battlefield, Monocacy National Battlefield and Catoctin Mountain Park began reduction activities in December 2016 as part of long-term deer management plans. This marked the first time Antietam and Monocacy implemented their deer management plans, which were approved in 2014. Catoctin has conducted deer management efforts since 2010 and has seen a 10-fold increase in native tree and shrub seedling density since it began deer management eight years ago. 

The parks used extensive safety measures to protect park visitors and neighbors during deer reduction operations. Biologists, who are also highly trained firearms experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, worked under the direction of National Park Service resource management specialists and in coordination with law enforcement park rangers.

Photo: Photos show the regeneration of seedlings and vegetation at Catoctin Mountain Park since the park began deer reduction activities in 2009. Photo credit: NPS Biologist Becky Loncosky