HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Federal government sharpshooters will target hundreds of white-tailed deer at two Civil War battlefields in Maryland this December, launching a multi-year program aimed at curbing damage to forests and plants, the National Park Service said Tuesday.
The Agriculture Department sharpshooters plan to kill 243 deer at Antietam National Battlefield and 278 at Monocacy National Battlefield from December through March under a program the park service approved in 2014. Both parks have deer population densities more than 10 times greater than the commonly accepted sustainable density of 15 to 20 per square mile, park service spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.
The government will donate all suitable deer meat to food banks, she said.
"Removing deer is the tool to allow healthy forests," Anzelmo-Sarles said in a telephone interview. "Or, in some cases, with the battlefields, to protect these historic landscapes that help tell the story of the battle which the park was established to preserve."
She said portions of the parks will be closed periodically from December through March to enable the sharpshooters to safely work. Hunting is prohibited in the parks.
This is the first of a multi-year deer reduction plan the agency approved for both battlefields plus Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. Manassas park managers are still working to secure funding and reach an agreement with the USDA, Anzelmo-Sarles said.
At Antietam, about 70 miles west of Baltimore and Monocacy, 20 miles further east, the plan calls for killing a combined total of about 1,200 deer over five years, followed by annual maintenance killings to keep the population ion check.
The park service also announced plans for maintenance deer removal at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, starting in November. Government sharpshooters have killed nearly 1,200 deer there since the program began in early 2010, producing more than 15 tons of venison for food banks.
The National Park Service has deer-removal projects in place at many other parks including Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.