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Thursday, December 1, 2022
ArlingtonDrones set to survey Arlington deer population

Drones set to survey Arlington deer population

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The buzzing you hear isn’t the sound of cicadas. No, those little buggers won’t be out of the ground for several weeks, assuming all goes according to plan.

Nope, the buzzing sound will be that of drones circling overhead, as the Arlington County government attempts to get a handle on the number of deer in local environs.

County officials have hired a contractor to perform a drone survey during the month of April, part of the data-collection effort for the development of a new Forestry and Natural Resources Plan.

The drones will collect “heat signatures” of deer, and will not identify humans, county officials said.


The drones will be flying over Arlington beginning a half hour before sunrise April 5 (weather permitting) each day until 30 minutes after sunset, until the survey is completed. Arlington County police will be monitoring drone usage to ensure it is in full compliance with agreements made with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

What will the collected data be used for? In part to determine if Arlington is home to too many deer – or, in the parlance of naturalists, whether the county’s “carrying capacity” had been exceeded.

If so, that could be a problem . . . for the deer, that is.

To date, the county government has not sanctioned deer-culling efforts, although Arlington Regional Master Naturalists has been pressing Arlington (and Alexandria) to follow the lead of its big neighbor, Fairfax County.

For the past two decades, Fairfax has embraced a regimen of “deer-management” (a phrase seemingly aimed to be purposely benign, as calling it something like “blasting Bambi” might not be easily swallowed by the public).

In a December forum, Master Naturalists said Arlington only has enough space to comfortably accommodate 45 deer. When there are more roaming the community, they can damage ecosystems and that, in turn, harms flora and fauna, leaders of that group said.

Too many deer cause problems for gardeners and drivers, advocates of culling the herd content, although they acknowledged that proposals to authorize deer hunts – by rifles, bow-and-arrow or other means – often bring out vociferous opposition.

While the problem today might be overpopulation, at the start of the 20th century, deer had been hunted almost to extinction across the East Coast – their numbers had dwindled so precipitously that specimens had to be imported from other parts of the country in order to rebuild the population.

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