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Helping Our Land Heal

Helping Our Land Heal

Helping Our Land Heal:  A Natural Capital Stewardship Model is a cooperative pilot study sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority to transform an unhealthy forest, impacted by many stresses, into a healthy self-sustaining ecosystem. 

Our natural areas are under severe stress due to human land disturbance, browsing by over-abundant white-tailed deer and non-native invasive species.

Helping Our Land Heal focuses on relieving these stresses on our natural areas so they can begin to heal themselves.

White-tailed Deer Management

Why are deer such a problem?  I love seeing them in the park.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are one of the most common and graceful native wildlife species in Virginia. However, the deer population in Northern Virginia has grown far beyond what our remaining native habitats can sustain. This is partly due to the abundance of food, including in our suburban yards. 

Many parks, including Ellanor C. Lawrence, have little or no native vegetation growing below six feet.   Deer impact the ability of forests to naturally regenerate.  Deer also allow non-native invasive species to gain the upper hand by removing their competition (deer do not eat non-native invasive species).  Severe damage to the forest understory has a long-term effect on our native plant communities and the wildlife species that depend on them. In contrast, a healthy forest structure is associated with increased biodiversity, which has been shown to benefit public health and the enjoyment of nature.

How are you planning to control deer populations?

Deer herd numbers must be dropped to allow the park vegetation to recover.  Park ecologists have determined that the most effective method to drop deer herd numbers at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is strategic sharpshooting. 

When and where will sharpshooting take place?

Sharpshooting is planned to take place in up to five defined areas within the park from 2:30pm-evening, during several weeks in January and February. 

Deer move around primarily dusk and dawn, and by night most animals have left the park to forage in the neighborhoods.  In order to efficiently remove deer, sharpshooting must occur while the deer are active, still in the park, and moving in small groups.  Their most active time in the winter is from approximately 3-6pm.

Will these planned activities affect my use of the park?

There will be limited park closures around the defined deer management areas from 2:30pm onward during several weeks in January and February.  Affected areas may include the Walney Visitor Center, Cabell’s Mill, athletic fields, trails and parking lots.  Park staff and/or uniformed police officers will be present during all operations directing the public and ensuring public safety.

Is sharpshooting safe?

Unlike urban archery, sharpshooting requires us to close portions of the park to ensure public safety.  Sharpshooting will take place from an elevated position within well-defined areas using the ground as a backdrop. 

This process is run by highly experienced personnel with decades of training in coordination with the Fairfax County Police Department.  Park staff and/or uniformed police officers will be present during all operations directing the public and ensuring public safety. 

Is birth control a viable alternative to lethal control?

No "fertility control" drugs (immunocontraceptives) are currently permitted to treat deer in Virginia.  The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) is the regulatory agency responsible for all issues related to wildlife. Two drugs currently exist to suppress fertility in adult female deer: PZP and GonaCon. PZP was first developed in 1972 and has not gained FDA or EPA approval for commercial use on deer.  GonaCon was granted EPA approval for experimental use in September 2009, but has only been used in a handful of states.

In addition to legal restrictions, there are significant biological and economic hurdles to implementing a birth control program in deer.  To be effective, a significant percentage of the female deer countywide would need to be captured each year, hand injected, and released.  Ensuring that thousands of female animals were captured and treated each year would be exceedingly difficult and expensive.  And, those thousands of deer, while less fertile, will continue to consume native vegetation for the duration of their lives.

Will I hear or see anything?

Nearby residents and park visitors may hear some gunfire.  Local police dispatch will be notified of the location planned activities on each night they occur.

Visitors will not be permitted to enter the areas where the management activities are occurring, for their own safety and for the safety of park personnel.

Natural Resource Protection
Helping Our Land Heal Educational Poster

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