Our Man in Arlington: September 7-13, 2023

Are too many white-tailed deer munching through our county’s gardens?

Last week I visited the Animal Welfare League of Arlington to graze around the question. It’s a good-vibes facility (slogan: “All in for Animals”), teeming with a crew of emblem-shirted professionals and volunteers fielding phone inquiries and visits from civilians concerned with lost or found critters.

In the lobby is a “pet pantry” of free food, toys and low-cost spay-neuter vouchers for financially stretched pet owners. There’s an adoption desk for consultations, a “wildlife room” and an education center. I toured the dog and cat kennels, with cages sponsored by local interests such as Northside Veterinary Clinic, Fed Lock, and the Horus Group. Each clean enclosure is labeled with the animal’s putative name, arrival date and any special conditions. It’s not easy to look those lonely creatures in the eye and walk away unaffected.

The issue of deer overpopulation arose in spring 2021 at the county offices on the same Shirlington block as the welfare league. Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas and his team grew concerned with threats to the environment from deer “eating away” vegetation and the habitat of birds and insects, which threatens public health. So they commissioned a survey of deer numbers, augmented in 2022 with a study of deer impact on green spaces conducted by the White Buffalo firm.

“Consultants estimated Arlington has a herd of whitetail deer numbering 290 and, in some areas, the concentration exceeded ‘healthy’ levels,’” says the Park Operations website.

This July, public input was solicited online and at a forum on steps park managers should take, ranging from hunting to sterilizing deer to fencing off parks. Those favoring culling would choose between professional sharpshooting (the county’s preference), surgical sterilization of female deer, public archery hunting and fenced parks.

The Animal Welfare League disagrees with the county’s science, as expressed in a statement by president Samuel Wolbert and chief animal control officer Jennifer Toussaint. They say deer rank low on concerns raised by Arlingtonians.

Chelsea Jones, their senior communications specialist, told me, “We don’t necessarily agree there actually is a deer problem in Arlington. Culling is a secondary issue.” The White Buffalo survey said there are 13 deer per square mile, but 15 is the point where deer become a problem, she says, acknowledging some “nuances” such as variations by neighborhood density. “Arlington skipped the ‘do we have deer problem?’ step and went straight to ‘how to manage the problem.’ We would prefer no culling,” Jones said, “but there are other ways, such as sterilization and fencing.”

The league understands that deer eating your gardens can be annoying. But at the risk of being typecast as “animal lovers,” she reminds us that “we are living in the deers’ habitat. We have to find a way to co-exist.”


Our public school planners continue struggling to rebalance attendance zones to fill empty places at North Arlington campuses. A proposal to change the boundaries of Dorothy Hamm Middle School would convert many current walkers to Hamm into bus riders enrolled at Williamsburg Middle School.

“This proposal is being rushed through an approval process in the summer/early fall without the benefit of proper input from those who will be most impacted by the change,” reads a parent protest letter.

“Hamm’s walker rate would decline to 40 percent under this proposal from its current 55 percent. Public and private-sector health experts have consistently found that walking to school is far more beneficial to students than being bused.”


An important follow-up on Marymount University’s controversial elimination last February of several liberal arts majors. The idea was to make space for popular fields such as physical therapy, health services, computer science and cybersecurity.

Last week the north Arlington Catholic institution announced it had set record numbers for inquiries received (12,752), campus visits from prospective students (1,146) and submitted applications (3,610). The expected result is the highest number of first-year students in seven years, with a 20 percent rise over last year, and a 5 percent boost in grad students.