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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

Another example of man stupidly trying to mess with Mother Nature. I grew up near there. The deer were never a problem, and last time I visited (2007), there was not an overpopulation problem. There are consequences when Man interferes in the natural order of things but Man is arrogant too and never learns till it's too late.

The sad reality is that the human population will continue to grow, and wild animals and wild places will continue to disappear. At some point in the future there will be too many humans for the earth to support and they (we) will die! But it's all right: Mother Nature will be only be "thinning the (our) herd"

Please stop spending tax payer dollars on the dear issue. Over population of any species needs to be dealt with and thinning the heard and feeding the poor makes sense. In the future I suggest your group raise money and relocate the deer yourself and stop clogging up the courts and already strained budgets.

I am not a hunter, it is something I could never do. I've been an animal lover all my life, had just about every legal kind of pet during my lifetime, own only 2 cats now, and am a serious birder and amateur nature photographer. Just saw the piece on the news about Valley Forge. Deer ARE a problem, Coyotes ARE a problem....the Natural Balance your group is fighting for is an UN-Natural and Man-Made Ecosystem by default, the results of over 300 years of the influence man has had on our environment here in the East. There are just too many Deer and the National Park Spokesman who stated that Deer are eating our Parks alive is right! It's a common problem everywhere, not just Valley Forge...the number of Deer there is clearly ridiculously high, and what are you going to do when a new fat and happy pack of coyotes are successfully reproducing and hunting to the point that there aren't enough Deer to eat so then what? Coyotes love cats and small dogs, garbage, can carry rabies and so on. Three people near me were just attacked by a rabid Gray Fox....too many of anything in the wrong place is a bad thing whether it be Monk's Parakeets, Coyotes, White-tailed Deer, Rabbits....whatever. As a Birder, I see habitat every day that is decimated by the browsing of an overpopulation of Deer. I know that ground and low level nesting species of birds have been extirpated from most parks where no hunting laws are in effect, allowing deer populations to explode unchecked, and introducing a predator into the same confined space is only going to create a new problem down the road. You are all aware of declining populations of migratory neotropical songbirds in the U.S. I hope....these are the colorful jewels of our forests and woodlands that come here from all of Central and South America. We cry out against the devastation of rain forests where these birds spend their Winters, but yet one of the major causes of habitat loss especially in the East is caused by the unchecked and protected overpopulation of Deer. Again, it is an un-natural ecosystem we have created that is causing serious harm in so many ways that is unnecesary and correctable. I respectfully request that your organization shift gears towards protecting animals that belong where they should be, not opportunists that are nothing more than invaders. Respectfully, Robert Beal Rochester, NY

get over and go eat a hamburger

I don’t understand why this so called problem wasn’t a problem prior to Kristina Heister’s position at the Park. As we visit the park weekly year round, it is disturbing to us that her agenda is a small fortune in tax dollars (estimated at 2-3 million and ongoing). They were negligent in addressing this years ago and want a quick fix at our expense? This seems to benefit someone other then the parks "understory"; leave the deer alone!

I listened to Lee Hall talk about how nature is the great healer when referencing the problem with the Valley Forge deer. Sure nature is the great healer but nature is cruel as well. If the deer herd is not thinned to where the land can support them, they'll become malnourished and die of starvation or disease. She mentioned bringing in coyotes. Bad move, I wouldn't wish coyotes on my worst enemy. In that case, the cure is worse than the disease. Here in Georgia, we have a horrible problem with coyotes. Now, it may sound cruel but shooting the excess deer and donating the meat to homeless shelters or whoever can use it is the most humane and efficient method of thinning the herd. Man caused the problem, man needs to make it right.

Evidently Ms. Hall and company don't know much about history. If they did, perhaps the story of the Kaibab Nat'l Forest would have some interest for them. That was a horrendous event brought about by the well intentioned but ignorant interference of animal rights activists. Hopefully, Valley Forge will benefit by the training and expertise of people who have the true welfare of the local deer herd in mind and not some mindless bunch of do-gooders.

I just saw the article about limiting deer in Valley Forge where some suggestion was made to introduce Coyote. You don't have to introduce Coyote, they are already there, as well in almost all other eastern states! Further, in areas where Coyote now exist, including WV, they have become a nuisance and kill almost every living thing smaller than themselves. ..I hunt deer here in WV & VA and can tell you that it is far more humane to be killed with a well placed rifle shot than to be torn apart or otherwise eaten alive by a pack of Coyotes! Besides, I understand the meat will feed the homeless. It's a win-win proposition!

I just heard about the issue via national news. Are you serious in thinking coyotes being introduced would have been a better solution? On our land in Colorado, there is nothing more heartbreaking than to see a deer being eaten - while alive - from the hind quarters up by hungry coyotes. A bullet is much more humane. Perhaps you should ask yourself which you would prefer if you were the deer. Your intentions may be "kindly", but in reality are far from it.

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