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A case for not killing the Valley Forge deer

December 03, 2010 | Deer / Hunting & Wildlife Management

Philadelphia Inquirer

Officials' plan to hunt them is cruel and pointless.

By Lee Hall and Maryanne Appel

Last winter, our advocacy groups sued to save the Valley Forge deer from a plan to kill most of them, and park officials agreed to hold their fire. This year, the officials regrouped, and the shooting has begun.

Last week, with the help of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver, Friends of Animals and CARE (Compassion for Animals, Respect for the Environment) filed an appeal urging the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to halt the gunfire in Valley Forge.

Valley Forge National Historical Park is a patch of precious wildlife habitat near the massive King of Prussia Mall. The Pennsylvania Turnpike runs along its border, and Routes 23 and 422 funnel commuters through it.

Officials counted 1,023 deer in the park in early 2009, when they resolved to shoot them. In October, a federal judge deferred to a plan to annihilate most of the herd. As officials have acknowledged, though, the deer population has stabilized, having peaked near 1,400 in 2003.

Should we worry that the Valley Forge deer are doing well? An Inquirer story last month reported that officials were suggesting as much, saying "a thousand acres of forest are being eaten alive by deer" - not exactly a scientific statement, but the kind that was used to justify enlisting gunners to bait and kill deer in the park for the first time ever. We are also told that killing deer is required to prevent drivers from hitting them.

Human control of North American deer, elk, and other animals drives a phenomenon called "evolution in reverse," in which the scrawniest are most likely to survive. It can also cause increases in the animals' birthrate, forcing more killing. Meanwhile, more natural spaces vanish under malls and roadways, and animals concentrated into smaller areas are blamed for a laundry list of ills they didn't create.

The National Park Service plans to allow the shooting for four years. Then it vows to impose an expensive regimen of pharmaceutical birth control on the surviving 165 or so deer - maybe. The service admits that it's uncertain about the viability of a pharmaceutical solution.

Contraception would require that the deer be captured, sedated, injected, and tagged for booster shots. They could suffer unnatural social and biological effects.

Nature itself balances deer herds according to available food, terrain, and weather, as well as the presence and health of carnivorous animals, such as coyotes. Valley Forge officials apparently never considered working with the state to change policies that suppress coyote populations in the vicinity, writing off the canines' ability to control deer (a position the government has since contradicted in a legal brief).

But coyotes do check deer populations. They take ailing, old, and young deer, thereby promote the health of herds. And coyotes already live in Valley Forge, so nobody's calling for their introduction to the area. (All that's been "introduced" to Valley Forge is the paraphernalia of tourist commerce: gift shops, horseback rides, trolley tours, and the like.)

If officials had examined this issue responsibly, they would have learned that more progressive jurisdictions promote human coexistence with coyotes. In Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California, residents have learned to live with coyotes, even in densely populated suburbs. And, interestingly, there is no "deer problem" in the region.

We can preserve peace in Valley Forge with the help of the community. Accidents could be largely averted through safer driving, even if that means slowing the typical Route 23 driver. Surrounding landowners could be more careful about what they plant to avoid attracting more deer, perhaps with the assistance of park officials. It's time to move beyond shooting, hunting, and chemically controlling the animals in our midst.

The National Park Service's stated mission is "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life" in national parks. We're asking that Valley Forge officials return to that ecologically responsible course.

Comments

For David C. and JM Spear, Thank you for considering the issues as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Fox News Channel. Please note that coyotes already live in the Park, and deer have lived in the Park for many years unharmed, so what our groups are asking for is the status quo, coupled with respect for coyotes and the natural balance. This is hardly a radical concept. Nature should not be turned into a theme park. Do you really want that for the national parks your tax money supports? Or do you want respect for the natural community in places where it still thrives? Please do not let fear or prejudice fashion your reaction. Respond wisely for this is the only planet we have, and other communities with whom we share it have every right to be here and carry out their lives as nature intended. Surely we need more respect for that idea; please find it in your heart and mind to contemplate the notion that we are not the controllers of every inch of space.

I've been driving through the park almost daily. It appears that they have killed many deer already. Several days I couldn't find a single deer. Does anyone have any actual information about how many they've killed? I do not believe that there were a thousand deer out there.

like LJ idrive through and hike the park frequently and have seen no deer in the past two weeks. a friend who hiked several miles last Monday said he saw only one young deer by itself off the bike trail near St Gabes curve. I believe we need to compile data on populations in other localities (L.A.?) that face similar situations but do not resort to these crueland extreme methods. We need facts to counteract the reckless statements of the park service that we know to be grossly exaggerated if not utterly false.

i just drove through that park last week, the only landscapping being done is by the deers, they act like this place is longwood gardens, far from it,instead of hiring gunners, try getting some lawn mowers and cutting the grass. and theres an over exageration of the deers,there not running all over the place,and there not bothering anybody,give me a break, kill all the deer to save some weeds. jan 2011 a new administration is in place, for a state thats broke,i wonder how this park can spend tax dollars to hire lawyers,go to court,hire gunners and pursue such a stupid idea to kill these deer. good news a couple letters to the new govenor and whoever came up with this moronic idea will be looking for a new job. i just read washington wants to take the wolf and grizzly off the endangered spicies list, the majority of people are against this, yet the minarity continues to be a thorn in the butt,makes you wonder, is there a light at the end of this tunnel. its our tax dollars that pay these guys salery and its our donations that help rescue groups go to court to stop them. we need to shift those tax dollars in our favor.

The PGC is way out of line on the deer herd in PA. First drivers don't seem to watch to closely now with cell phones it gets even worse. I'm in Northeast Pa, 20 miles from the Poconos, driving for 54 years could have hit many deer but I watch my surroundings. With countless deer seasons I don't see the problem, just exterminate them and be done with -- that's their idea. PS never did hit any deer

Excellent article. Ms. Hall and Ms. Appel are right on! The killing brings out the worst instincts in people and ruins the pacific lives of innocent and helpless animals.

The excuses for so called hunting never end. It's just more misguided reasoning to go out and shoot something. We aren't fooled.

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