WASHINGTON Sharpshooters will begin culling the fast-growing white-tailed deer population in Washington's Rock Creek Park starting on Wednesday night, the National Park Service said.
The nighttime cull by Department of Agriculture sharpshooters in the heart of the U.S. capital is aimed at reducing the deer population to 15 to 20 per square mile (six to eight per square km) from the current level of 70 per square mile, the Park Service said in a statement.
The number of deer has soared in the last 20 years, creating a threat to plant life because the animals are eating nearly all the park's tree seedlings, the statement said.
The three-year deer-control program is critical to "ensuring the forest is able to support native plants and animals found in Rock Creek Park in a sustainable manner for this and future generations," Park Superintendent Tara Morrison said in the statement.
The Department of Agriculture sharpshooters will deploy from Thursday through Saturday at night, when the 12-mile-long (19-km-long) park is normally closed.
The number of U.S. white-tailed deer has exploded from a few hundred thousand in the 1930s to an estimated 30 million now. The growth has been blamed on a lack of predators and growth of deer-friendly residential areas outside cities.
The Rock Creek operation comes after a deer cull in a neighboring section of park in the capital's Maryland suburbs.
A federal judge this month threw out a lawsuit filed by local residents and an animal rights group to block the Rock Creek cull.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)