BOSTON HEIGHTS: Ted Polcyn is an avid outdoorsman and hiker who believes deer are important to the ecosystem.
But nature is a system of checks and balances, and an overabundance of white-tailed deer in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is tilting the scales too far, he said.
On Wednesday, he joined about a dozen area residents in a public meeting at Happy Days Lodge to hear about the park’s plans to restore balance.
Polcyn said deer have had a major impact in his Brecksville neighborhood, not far from the park border. He loves to grow vegetables but has had to reduce his garden to a small enclosed plot.
“And they eat all the flowers. I have to plant things they won’t eat instead of planting the flowers that I want,” he said.
While homeowners with gardens and motorists at risk of hitting deer might have personal reasons for wanting to see the population controlled, the park’s motivation is something entirely different.
Studies throughout the national park have shown the deer are eating so many tree seedlings and other important plants, the forest can’t regenerate fast enough. Ground cover is being suppressed, and the loss of habitat has resulted in a lower number of songbirds.
In a report that has been seven years in the making, the CVNP staff is leaning toward a deer management plan that would use sharpshooters to cull the local herd and — if and when it becomes available in the future — birth control darts that would stop some of the doe from reproducing.
An estimated 1,669 deer live in the 33,000-acre park that stretches from Cleveland to Akron — or an average of 41 animals per square mile.
An ideal balance would be 20 deer a square mile, said Lisa Petit, chief of resource management for Cuyahoga Valley.
Officials narrowed down their options to four:
• Take no action. Continue monitoring the animals and vegetation at a cost of about $50,000 a year.
• Take nonlethal action, including constructing fences in some areas of the park to allow forest regeneration and implement reproductive control methods when and if that technology becomes available, at a cost of about $530,000.
• Take lethal action, including the use of sharpshooters, at a cost of $158,000.
• Combine lethal and nonlethal action, at a cost of about $280,000.
CVNP is already on the record for favoring the fourth option.
A plan spelled out in a 370-page draft environmental impact statement released last month suggests killing up to 375 deer a year for five years, then 175 deer annually.
Park staff present to field questions from the public didn’t encounter any opposition at the Wednesday afternoon meeting.
Mary Pat Doorley, Cuyahoga Valley’s interpretive operations supervisor, said because MetroParks, Serving Summit County, has been culling deer for years, residents in the area are used to the concept.
“We’re not leading the charge,” she said. “It’s nothing new.”
One volunteer asked Dave Jacobs, with the National Park Service’s Environmental Quality Division, what would happen to the dead deer.
Jacobs said the animals would be dressed and donated to local food pantries, at a cost to the park of about $200 per head.
Meanwhile, Petit said a birth control dart that would meet federal efficiency and safety guidelines doesn’t exist yet, but the park would like to use such an option on 392 doe a year.
“There is a lot of energy right now going into developing something,” she said. “We believe it will happen during the life of this plan.”
The public comment period for the park plan will continue through Sept. 24.
Officials expect to release a final plan next summer, and implement it in the fall.
The full report is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/cuvadeerplan.