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Letter to the Editor: Co-existing with deer, not killing them, is the answer

December 22, 2008 | Deer

Delaware County Times, Pennsylvania, US
by Lee Hall
Legal Director, Friends of Animals

To the Times:

On Dec. 15, Swarthmore College had planned to kill the deer that meander* on and around Crum Woods - some 220 acres of mostly forested land straddling the Crum Creek in Swarthmore.

At the 11th hour, advocates from the local area were advised that no permit for the shoot had yet been issued from Pennsylvania's Game Commission.

Perhaps the state officials - or the school administrators - are recalling the danger posed by sharpshooters in suburban communities. (A bullet can travel from two to two and a half miles.)

But the bureaucratic delay might not last long. The killing could still be approved as I write, or at some point during the holiday recession, or in seasons to come.

Once shooting starts, it's a cyclical affair: shooting, shooting and shooting again, season after season. It's not just dangerous to humans, it's bloody work, so people look away and pay the pros to do it.

At Swarthmore and beyond, it's high time we began to resolve our conflicts not with violence, but through creative thought and action.

Others in similar situations have had substantial success co-existing with deer, applying a variety of natural answers such as native deterrent plants and strategically placed fences.

We understand that several advocates, including at least two respected professionals from the field of philosophy, have felt compelled to suggest that Swarthmore try experimental contraceptives, hoping to reassure the college that future generations of deer would be, in effect, bloodlessly eliminated.

But the contraceptive porcine zona pellucida, or PZP, is not a sound alternative to shooting. Derived from pigs, it's being tested in free-living animals - and, by extension, on entire food chains.

Deer contraception might appear to animal advocates and philosophers to be humane, but once it is perfected it will enable human beings to simply "disappear" animals as Pennsylvanians continue building ever more car parks, roads, malls, schools, and mansions.

We should be careful not to promote what looks like a short-term solution with truly disastrous long-term implications.

We urge Swarthmore College and the surrounding community to press for answers that genuinely respect the autonomy and dignity of the deer, and the health of the local ecology.

* The letter as originally submitted said "deer who meander" - LH.

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