Who Is Responsible for Deer Management?
The State of Virginia and Fairfax County have distinct but limited roles in deer management:
- The Virginia legislature passes laws that establish which species receive special protection as game animals and which can be killed any time as pests. Find Virginia law in Title 29.1 - Game, Inland Fisheries, and Boating especially Chapters 3 through 5. During most of the twentieth century, deer were relatively rare and the State’s rules for harvesting deer were intended to increase the number of deer for the benefit of recreational hunters. That is, deer have been managed as game. The legislature has passed laws to increase harvest opportunities in areas where deer are over-abundant. But the State will not remove the deer that eat your garden and your wildlife habitat. That’s up to the landowner.
- The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries develops and enforces game regulations in accordance with State law. They employ conservation police officers and wildlife biologists to accomplish that mission. DGIF wildlife biologists strongly recommend that landowners harvest deer in Fairfax County, adjacent counties, and other parts of Virginia with over-abundant deer. Download the biologists' statement and read VA DGIF's web pages about deer. VDGIF issues permits and offers technical assistance for deer management but does not actually remove deer except in disease monitoring or acute safety situations. But the State has no money, personnel, or program to harvest deer on private properties. That’s up to the landowner.
- Within the limits specified by the legislature and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, counties and municipalities in Virginia can regulate the use of weapons, implement programs to harvest deer on public properties, educate the public about deer damages, and adopt State sanctioned regulations, such as the Urban Archery Season, that enable hunters to increase the annual harvest of deer. A number of hunts are conducted on public lands. Fairfax County SWAT members get night target practice at a few selected public properties in highly controlled hunts. Shotgun hunts have been conducted on County park properties for a number of years. The Fairfax County Wildlife Biologist and the Fairfax County Park Authority in 2009 managed deer harvests by archer organizations on two Park properties. This effort is being expanded to more parks in 2010. Read Fairfax County Police Department, Wildlife Biologist's information about deer management. But, as with all public agencies, Fairfax County has neither the authority and nor the funding to harvest deer on private properties. That’s up to the landowner.
The public deer hunts have not sufficiently controlled Fairfax County’s over-abundant deer or the damages they cause. That is due to the fact that public lands make up less than 15 percent of Fairfax County. The rest is privately owned. Without substantial participation by private landowners, the over-abundance of deer in Fairfax County (as in other urban areas) cannot be brought under control.
Thus, private landowners – residents, homeowner associations, commercial and office parks – are essential to competing the job that public agencies have started.
Many hunters on their individual initiative find private properties to hunt. Other hunters organize to help landowners. For instance, Suburban Whitetail Management of Northern Virginia in 1997 began organizing hunters for the purpose of helping landowners manage deer and to improve the respect that archers receive from the public. More recently, more archer organizations have formed.
Green Fire will coordinate the efforts of private landowners and archer organizations to manage deer numbers across the County and region for the purpose of limiting the damages deer cause.