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ArlingtonStaff not sure deer-culling is the way to go

Staff not sure deer-culling is the way to go

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As an advocacy group presses to cull the deer population in Arlington – by as much as 80 percent – county staff say the data collected so far do not necessarily suggest such an effort is warranted.

“There’s a lot of allegations that [deer] numbers are higher than they were before. That’s not statistically proven,” said Jennifer Toussaint, who has served as chief of Arlington’s animal control since 2016.

Toussaint was among those taking part in a Feb. 9 forum sponsored by the Arlington Committee of 100, as county officials continue efforts to discern roughly how many deer reside in the county, and whether that number is out of proportion with the resources available to sustain them.

The effort has been spearheaded for the last two years by members of Arlington Regional Master Naturalists, who contend that the deer population is on the rise and is, in the word of the modern era, unsustainable.


“We feel that the deer abundance has been increasing,” said Steve Young, who spoke at the meeting. “We now see herds of deer parading through the neighborhoods.”

A drone survey conducted over most of Arlington last year found 290 deer, working out to an average of about 13 for every square mile studied. Not surprisingly, wooded areas of the community saw more, urban areas far less.
During an earlier discussion on the topic held in 2020, the Master Naturalists group contended that Arlington has the resources for about 45 deer. Given the much larger number recorded, it’s perhaps inevitable that deer are beginning to foray into residential areas.

“If you grow a vegetable garden, you may have lost a lot of vegetables,” Young said. “The deer are running out of food.”

The community’s effort to plant more trees is imperiled by a large deer crop, he added, as males rub up against the trees, stripping their bark.
“The deer move in and clobber those new plantings,” he said.

But Toussaint said there “is not a magic number” of deer, and said that, from a statistical standpoint, their presence does not seem to be engendering a backlash from the public.

“We get very few” concerns about deer, said Toussaint, who works for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Less than 3 percent of complaints about wildlife since November 2020 were deer-related, she said, and the number of collisions between vehicles and deer in the county have been declining.

Rather than a blanket effort to cull the herd, animal-welfarae staff are compiling an action plan for non-lethal options in specific trouble spots, she said. Options range from deer birth control to providing overpasses above roads for their use.

Last year’s drone survey was another step in studying the problem. “We are now looking to hire a consultant” to move the process along, said Alonso Abugattas, a county-government naturalist.

Abugattas acknowledged that deer “do have some effect” on residential communities, as they require between 5 and 8 pounds of food per day. But like Toussaint, he seemed to intimate that something more targeted than simply blasting away at Bambi to reduce the population might be the preferred option, particularly in a community like Arlington where people are packed together close to nature.

There is an irony to all this discussion of overpopulation: At the early part of the 20th century, Virginia had almost no white-tailed deer left, due to both hunting and disease. Efforts to reverse that led to a revival starting in the 1940s, and today there could be as many of 1 million deer across the Old Dominion.

Since 1998, neighboring Fairfax County has had a program to cut the deer population, relying on hunters using both guns and bows. Several other jurisdictions also have efforts in place to limit their deer population.

In the end, however, deer are going to do what deer are going to do – seek out others of their kind.

“Deer are going to congregate,” Toussaint said. “They’re very social in that way.”

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