UPDATE (9:03 p.m.)—Some Baltimore County parks could be opened to deer hunting under a bill sponsored by Republican Councilman Todd Huff.
The bill, introduced tonight, would allow deer hunting on county parkland that is authorized by the state . The county would determine which species would be hunted.
But Enid Feinberg, an opponent of similar hunts in the county, said expanding hunting into county parks creates a public safety issue.
The bill, as proposed, carries a misdemeanor charge and $100 fine for violations.
Huff said the legislation would reduce deer populations to sustainable levels and improve safety for the public.
"(The deer) destroy the vegetation and they spread Lyme disease and are the biggest cause of accidents that are driving up insurance rates," Huff said.
The bill does not specify which county parks would likely see such a hunt but it is not likely to include many of the traditional regional parks around the county.
Huff, who is not a hunter, said that while the legislation would open all county parks to managed hunts, he specifically was interested in issues related to Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville.
Some current and former county officials said that other likely spots for such hunts include large wooded areas such as in Loch Raven Watershed near Towson, and the Marshy Point Nature Center in Middle River.
"There's a lot of damage done by deer in those parks," said Vince Gardina, director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. "It's primarily forest damage."
Three years ago, the county closed a large portion of Oregon Ridge's popular hiking trails to the public in order to log the area and replant trees. The new saplings that were planted were protected with anti-deer wrappings.
It is not uncommon for hikers to encounter deer on the trails at Oregon Ridge or see the carcasses of deer struck by vehicles along the side of Shawan Road.
Robert Barrett, who was director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks for the last eight years, said deer problems have always been present around the park and only grew in recent years.
"There's a lot of deer up there," Barrett said, adding that hunting "is a very controversial political issue."
"About 70 percent of the people don't want to do it and the ones who do are usually part of nature conservancy groups," Barrett said.
One such opponent, Feinberg, said such hunts are obsolete and dangerous.
"We live in a modern society and we need to look for modern solutions that don't involve weapons," said Feinberg, a board member of Wildlife Rescue Inc. "It's small-minded thinking."
Feinberg said introducing hunters into public parks used by hikers is a dangerous mix.
"You're just asking for trouble," she said. "It's a blatant risk to public safety."
"I don't know what accident has to happen that will make people think that there really should be an alternative [to hunting]," Feinberg said.
Gardina said he favors a controlled hunt that uses professional hunters "rather than one that is open to the public."
"Certainly safety would have to be the primary issue here," Gardina said.
Should the bill pass, the final decision on how hunts are handled would be made by the county departments of the environment and recreation and parks in conjunction with county police and the state, Gardina said.
Currently, county law prohibits discharging a firearm, pellet gun or crossbow within the metropolitan district—essentially the county's most urban areas.
The state manages deer hunts in all three city-owned reservoir watersheds. Loch Raven Reservoir was the last of those to be hunted in 2008.
Additionally, the county has paid for professional hunters to harvest deer from the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed. The harvested deer were donated to food banks.
And while there have been some minor complaints about hunters wandering out of the boundaries where hunting is allowed, there have been no major incidents involving the managed hunts.
What is not clear is whether the state already has the ability to authorize a hunt without Huff's bill.
"I think they can do it now," said Barrett. "I think all the county would need to do is send the state a letter and ask for it."
Huff said he has also heard that the state might be able to authorize a hunt without the county law. He said he has not yet spoken with state officials to confirm if that was true.
"I think this bill is just to cover everyone's butt regarding the use of a firearm on county-owned land," Huff said.
officials were not immediately available for comment.
The bill is scheduled for discussion at the council's April 26 work session. A final vote is scheduled for May 2.