Deer culling program yields 55,000 meals for hungry in DC, Maryland, Virginia

The National Park Service just donated tens of thousands of pounds of venison to feed the hungry in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Eight national parks in our area have finished up their deer culling programs, during which biologists who are trained firearms experts go into the parks at night after they are closed and manage the overabundance of white-tailed deer. 

For most parks, it occurs from January to April.

Since 2010, the meat has been processed and donated to local food banks, including the Maryland Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, and Hunters for the Hungry in Virginia. 

This year, about 13,000 pounds of venison was donated - representing roughly 433 deer. That translates to more than 55,000 venison meals.

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Overabundant deer populations damage plants and eat nearly all tree seedlings, preventing forest regeneration, according to Megan Nortrup with the NPS.

She said they have seen over the years how effective the program has been in restoring growth.  

Rock Creek Park, which began deer management in 2013, has seen tree seedling numbers double.

"We are seeing the success in our forests and that is great, not just for plants and trees, but every other animal that we have to take care of like flying squirrels, foxes, and everything in between," Nortrup said.


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Deer at two national parks in Maryland tested positive for a highly contagious and fatal brain disease known as "zombie deer disease," the first such cases detected at national parks in the state, officials said Tuesday.

Hunters for the Hungry is one of the nonprofits that received the venison donation. It was started in 1991 and initially, was meant for hunters to share some of their harvest to be processed and donated to those in need.

It has grown to take in donations from hunters, farmers, municipalities, and deer culling operations like the NPS, and has served more than 32 million venison meals over the years, according to director Gary Arrington.

"One of the things that feeding programs would say was the hardest thing to get was high-protein, low-fat red meat, which is essential for the diets of small children, for brain development and for the elderly, to maintain healthy bone structure," Arrington said.

"We're fortunate that we've got hunters, and non-hunters alike because so many people just believe in the fact that we're able to provide this renewable natural resource to so many men, women, children, the homeless, the elderly, veterans who struggle with hunger."