BOSTON TWP.: The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is once again looking to use sharpshooters to reduce the number of white-tailed deer.
Recent deer culling efforts of Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, and Cleveland Metroparks have reduced deer densities from 87 deer per square mile in 1999 to 41 deer per square mile in 2010 in the Cuyahoga Valley.
But the number of deer still wandering and eating away at the park’s natural resources is still deemed too high.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park wants to use sharpshooters to kill up to 375 deer a year for four years, said Lisa Petit, chief of resource management for Cuyahoga Valley.
After that, 175 deer would need to be shot annually in an effort to allow the deer-ravaged forest to regenerate, Petit said.
The plan is spelled out in a 370-page draft White-Tailed Deer Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement released Tuesday by the National Park Service.
Park officials would like to implement the plan in the winter of 2014-2015, at the earliest, Petit said.
After five years of thinning the herd, the 33,000-acre federal park would kick off a deer contraception program to treat nearly 400 does to keep the deer numbers from growing, she said. The does would require treatment every two years, she said.
Right now, there are no contraception methods that meet all federal guidelines for park use so this part of the plan is uncertain, Petit said.
If no means are developed, it may be necessary to shoot even more deer.
Studies have shown that deer grazing is limiting the growth of tree seedlings and suppressing the growth of native ground cover within the park, Petit said.
The hope is that the forest will regenerate in the next 10 years and the so-called browse lines created by hungry deer eating all available vegetation will disappear. The price tag over 15 years is $4.2 million.
Work on the report began with public meetings in late 2006.
Petit said the report has taken a long time but addresses all issues, is in line with what other national park units are doing and is defensible scientifically and legally.
Public open houses on the deer issue will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 14 in the Happy Days Lodge in Boston Heights.
The release of the report kicks off a 60-day public comment period that runs until Sept. 24. After the 60 days, the report then will be revised and finalized.
Officials estimate there are 1,669 deer in the Cuyahoga Valley park.
The four years of shooting would reduce the deer herd in the park by nearly 50 percent to about 872 deer after the fourth year, despite additional deer being born over that time. It would reduce the density from 41 to 21 per square mile.
Ideal densities are estimated to be between 15 and 30 deer per square mile, Petit said.
The park had densities as high as 142 deer per square mile in 2002 in parts of Boston Township north of Peninsula.
Densities today are higher in the southern part of the park near Peninsula and south into Boston Township and Cuyahoga Falls.
The goal of the federal program is to assure the deer do not become the dominant force in the park’s ecosystem, impacting flora and other fauna, she said.
The success of the plan won’t be measured by a certain number of deer but on the success of the forest to regenerate, she said.
The sharpshooting would be done by a contractor hired by the National Park Service. It would be done at night in winter from baited stands for several months.
The meat would be donated to local food banks.
The park does not have enough rangers and trained personnel to manage the sharpshooting by itself, she said.
The law creating the park does not allow any form of public hunting, so that option is prohibited.
Hunters and the Ohio Department of Resources have, over the years, pushed for public hunting in the federal park.
Contraceptive means, by itself, is not sufficient to reduce the deer herd in the park, Petit said.
Capture and euthanasia might be used in a few isolated cases, she said.
The park looked at trying to fence off large sections of the park to keep deer away, but that option was deemed unworkable.
What’s happening in the Cuyahoga Valley is also happening at other national parks across the country.
Some 10 other parks have similar strategies for deer and elk. They include Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana and Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.
The park has closely monitored tree seedlings and a spring wildflower, the trillium. It must grow to a certain height to bloom and deer love to eat them.
“Seedlings don’t grow where deer browse,” she said in a media briefing. The deer have also had “a very, very clear impact on trilliums,” she added. “They are getting sparser and sparser and rarer and rarer.”
The park has fenced off 26 trillium plots and 12 larger seedling enclosures in the Cuyahoga Valley. A dozen more of each will likely be added in the monitoring program, Petit said.
The seedlings and flowers have been negatively impacted by deer and that warrants action, according to a science team of park service personnel and academics that advised the park on the deer problem.
Cuyahoga Valley officials began serious analysis of deer and their effect on the park in 1997.
In 1997, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled that Cuyahoga Valley officials did not produce sufficient evidence to support a plan to use sharpshooters to kill up to 470 deer in the park. He sided with a coalition of animal-rights groups that opposed the plan and filed a lawsuit to block it.
Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, and Cleveland Metroparks have both relied on sharpshooters to kill deer for years. That program began in 2004 in Summit County and 1999 in Cleveland Metroparks.
The draft report is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/cuvadeerplan. A few copies of the report will be available at park headquarters. Write to Superintendent, Attn: Deep Management Plan, CVNP, 15610 Vaughn Road, Brecksville, OH 44141.
The Peninsula, Northfield and Brecksville public libraries will also get copies of the report.
For additional information, contact Petit at 440-546-5970 or email@example.com.
Petit called preparation of the report “a lengthy ordeal” but said she is confident that the deer damage to the park’s vegetation is repairable.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.