Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer
Recently, I watched five deer quietly come up from the woods to my back yard to graze on some twigs. I stood and watched and wondered why they are so vilified and why there is such a huge controversy about them. The park beyond my yard is their home, and homes surrounding the park have taken over part of their homeland.
Can’t we be more tolerant and helpful? Can’t we welcome them and learn to live with them?
Enter Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer (PAD), a cooperative venture backed by residents surrounding Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Local residents, together with their supporters throughout greater Philadelphia, formed PAD this past spring (2010) to cultivate respect for deer and other animals living in Philadelphia’s park system. PAD is committed to the long-term ecological health of Fairmount Park while respecting the park’s indigenous animals.
Several PAD members have been involved since 1998 with other organizations seeking to stop the killing of the Philadelphia park system’s deer – a controversial solution to the alleged problems created by the deer in the park’s Wissahickon Valley and other areas within Fairmount Park. The solutions we have presented to the Fairmount Park Commission Board – now part of the Parks and Recreation Department – often have been suppressed or misrepresented.
Friends of the Wissahickon (FoW), a Philadelphia-based organization, began a scientific study in 1994 to count the deer in the parks, responding to complaints from their members that the deer were ruining private prized gardens surrounding Fairmount Park as well as over-grazing the park itself. FoW’s statistics indicated a growing deer population, and for the past several years the park officials have contracted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to invade our peaceful park system in order to slaughter the deer. Although concerned residents were initially told that the ‘culling’ would only be a one-time event, the slaughter has continued annually for twelve years.
Deer continue to be blamed for disturbing the park biosphere, when the people who use the park — mountain bikers, hikers, and other trail users – have a far more serious impact.
Hoping to become an advocate for the deer, I recently applied for a seat on the new Parks and Recreation Board – but was not chosen for the Board. I then attempted to contact the Parks and Recreation Department’s Commissioner, Michael DeBerardinis, to suggest a meeting when I and other concerned residents could discuss our concerns, only to be sent a letter stating that the park’s current control methods provide the best opportunity for successfully managing the herd.
Some encouraging news arrived in late 2009. Citing, in part, a lawsuit brought by Friends of Animals and their allies in a group based in West Chester, Pennsylvania named CARE, the federal government decided not to go ahead as planned this past winter with sharpshooters working for the Department of Agriculture to kill the deer in Valley Forge National Historical Park, which is only a few miles northwest of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Animals welcomed and supported the formation of PAD.
Much to Learn
PAD is also fortunate to have an excellent historian of deer advocacy in Philadelphia as one of our founding members. We know that the deer were once seen much more positively -- as special and unique -- whereas now they are vilified.
Lately, when the yearly slaughter of the deer occurs, neighbors turn a blind eye and I see it as an indication of the need to educate. We are responsible for what happens in our communities, and the killing of the deer year after year is an important ethical issue that cannot be ignored.
PAD, then, was formed to protect the deer. Our core goal is to raise our neighbors’ consciousness about the deer and increase their support for park policies that allow the deer to live freely in Fairmount Park. While we need to increase our membership over the next year, our short-term objectives are clear:
- To connect those who live near or care about Fairmount Park, to educate them about appropriate park policies regard the deer, and, particularly, to end the killing.
- To provide regular opportunities for community meetings where discussions of alternative gardening approaches, Lyme disease, deer-related traffic accidents, and other concerns can be openly talked about. To find opportunities to share information about the history of the deer in Fairmount Park.
- To organize and conduct monthly outreach in Philadelphia to raise awareness of the issue and distribute literature.
- To meet with local political figures, including Mayor Michael A. Nutter and Michael DiBerardinis, Commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as members of Philadelphia City Council and State Senators.
The deer are gentle, quiet and peaceful animals and we have much to learn from them. PAD will be instrumental in this endeavor.
Mary Ann Baron can be reached at: email@example.com