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D.C. national park uses deer management program to feed the homeless

AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIEN BOZON (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)

Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., isn't the only national park to conduct a deer management program in an attempt to maintain the vegetation of their urban park. But it may be the only park in the nation to provide the haul to area homeless shelters to help feed the indigent.

According to Rock Creek Park Public Affairs Specialist Emily Linroth, the deer management program at Rock Creek Park has partnered with area homeless shelters to provide venison they take in -- after it's tested and determined to be safe for consumption -- to help feed the homeless men and women living in Washington, D.C.

Since the start of the program, "we've donated about 6000 lbs of venison, primarily to DC Central Kitchen," Linroth said. "First we test it for chronic wasting disease and when it comes back clean, we donate it to local food banks."

For its part, DC Central kitchen describes itself as almost a hub that distributes goods to area homeless and other service-oriented organizations. "We use otherwise wasted food to prepare 5,000 daily meals which we then deliver to homeless shelters, rehabilitation clinics, afterschool programs, and other social services agencies," says Erica Teti-Zilinskas,

Director of Communications & Marketing for DC Central Kitchen. "This is an important distinction for us because our community meals program is about adding capacity to our partner nonprofits so they can focus their efforts on their own missions." 

Since hunting is not allowed in Rock Creek Park, Linroth said they use the help of Department of Agriculture-trained marksmen and firearms experts, who also happen to be biologists, to make their yearly haul to DC Central Kitchen a possibility.

The program starts in late Fall and continues through early Spring, all after dark. Signage has already gone up warning park-goers not to venture through the park after night falls.

"There are several thousands of acres just in the core of Rock Creek Park, so we have staff rangers stationed to warn anyone that doesn't heed the signs that the program is being conducted," Linroth says. She also says the hunter-biologists use infrared devices that can tell them by the heat signature what kind of animal they're seeing — even a human one.

Linroth said the program has only been in effect for the last three years, but already they've removed over 200 deer. And they chose D.C. Central Kitchen because it's not just a homeless shelter, but it has developed what they call "school ventures" designed to put people to work to fight poverty.

Linroth said the program is necessary to maintain the vegetation in the park so the other animals and humans can enjoy the park and its fauna. "The deer really love to eat the seedlings," she notes. "And so we adjust the amount of deer."

She says the hunter-biologists have a saying: "It's not that we have too  many deer. It's that we have too few trees," she said. The reduction in the number of deer helps them monitor the vegetation. And provide food for those who may not otherwise have it over a cold Northeast coastal winter. Sounds like a win-win.

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