When urban archery season begins in Virginia Sept. 4, one Reston homeowner will be taking part - right on his property.
The Reston Association Board of Directors recently approved the request of homeowner Dan Grove, who lives on Buckthorn Lane, to conduct the hunt using the services of a professional bowhunting company, Suburban Whitetail Management of Northern Virginia.
Grove put in the request last May, after four members of his family contracted Lyme disease and other methods of deer control failed to work on his three-quarter-acre property.
"There is an urgent, health-driven need for me to reduce deer traffic on my property," Grove said in his letter to Reston Association. "Two years ago, my family was reasonably healthy. Today, four of my immediate family members have been diagnosed with Lyme disease or other deer-tick-borne co-infections. This has become an issue of physical and emotional well-being, as well as a financial impact for their care.
"Why take the lives of deer?" the letter continues. "We live in Reston, a great place to work, live, play. But my children cannot go out and play freely, and we cannot freely garden as we would like, because the deer are browsing the yard freely and leaving ticks behind."
The Centers for Disease Control reports that the number of reported cases of Lyme Disease doubled in Virginia and Maryland between 2005 and 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Lyme Disease is carried by deer ticks. For the majority of patients who contract the infection, the first symptom is a bulls-eye rash at the bite site. Some patients develop additional lesions in other areas of the body after several days. Patients also experience symptoms of fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.
If Lyme Disease goes untreated, longer term effects may include loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face (called facial or "Bell's palsy), severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis, shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat, chronic joint pain and arthritis.
RA approved the request as changes to the 2006 governing documents allow for RA approval on a case-by-case basis, said Larry Butler, RA director of Parks & Recreation.
"Prior to 2006, if a person wanted to hunt and abided by state law, they could do it," he said. "A lot of folks did it. But after the law changed, an application had to be made and approved in order to hunt."
Grove, who declined to be interviewed, met the very specific criteria for the hunt, said Butler.
Some of the criteria: lot size of more than one-half acre; hunting only from before sunrise to about 8 a.m. and only on weekdays; hunt will be held no less than 50 yards away from an occupied residence and 75 yards away from a street, path or bus stop, playground or other public place. Most importantly, only bowhunting from a stand 15 feet off the ground - no guns.
"The property owners are using a company that certifies and trains hunters," said Butler. "It is different than someone who says ' I am going to start shooting.' There is no way we would ever allow someone to use a gun."
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries established an urban archery season in 2002 as a means of reducing deer population.
Clearly, there is deer overpopulation in the area, said Butler. Evidence of this can be found in the size of the deer (small and scrawny because they are competing for food) as well as what they are eating (pretty much everything, because they can't be picky).
"In Reston, you can go into forested areas and see some areas where there is no vegetation other than things like ferns, which deer find unsuitable," said Butler. "People have to put netting over their shrubs. Deer will go wherever they see food - especially after a heavy winter. You can find them eating the foundation shrubs."
Grove, who said his immediate neighbor is interested in sharing the services of the hunting company, said he has tried various commercial and homemade repellents, including garlic pods, egg-mixtures, sprays, deer fence.
" We have also simply tried to run out in the yard and scare the deer away," he said in his letter. "They remain undeterred. While a hunt on my and adjoining property will not eradicate deer from Reston broadly, studies have shown that it will deter deer from trafficking on my property. This in turn will substantially reduce the number of ticks that are found on my property."
A Connecticut study showed there was a deer population of 77 deer per square mile. When that number was reduced by 74 percent, the tick population decreased by 92 percent.
A recent are a study of the Difficult Run area between Reston and Great Falls showed 185 deer per square mile.
Butler said RA notified 70 neighbors of the hunt. He says he hasn't heard many dissenters.
"Clearly there are people who think hunting does not have a place in Reston, even on a half-acre, wooded lot," said Butler. "You are going to have people on both sides. That is one of those discussions for which there is no real answer."