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NPS unveils options to manage deer at Civil War battlefields

New deer management plans for three Civil War battlefields will be announced soon. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Antietam, Monocacy, Manassas White-Tailed Deer Management Plan has been issued by the National Park Service (NPS). The three battlefields are preserved and operated as national parks by NPS. Antietam National Battlefield and Monocacy National Battlefield are in Maryland and Manassas National Battlefield Park is in Virginia, all operated under the auspices of NPS' National Capital Region.

NPS announced the final plan in the Federal Register of Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. NPS is trying to manage the deer population to keep the character of the historic parks and protect the balance of indigenous plant life. NPS notes that the deer population has grown from a manageable level of 15-25 deer per square mile to 130-230 per square mile. And while no reports of chronic wasting disease (CWD) have been reported in the park, NPS fears it could spread to deer there.

NPS outlined four options to deal with the problem. Alternative A means not changing anything from current policy. Alternative B includes putting does on birth control and fencing off certain areas to prevent deer from eating crops and allowing forested areas to regrow. Alternative C involves killing deer by sharpshooters or capturing them and euthanizing them. If the meat is free of CWD, some people would enjoy donated venison. Finally, alternative D would combine strategies of Alternatives B and C. Once the population is down to desirable levels, NPS would resort to non-lethal methods only to maintain it. The options depend on the availability of effective birth control.

Options B, C and D all include a proviso allowing testing of deer for CWD. If it is found within five miles of any of the parks, NPS would start killing deer.

NPS issued a draft plan for public comments a year ago. It revised the plan in response to the comments. NPS has not yet decided which option to choose and won't take any action until the end of August at the earliest.

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