CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA ““ “Boiling the frog slowly” is a disturbing metaphor for people’s failure to note and respond to serious but gradual harms.

The idea (not exactly true) is that a frog will jump to escape hot water but won’t jump out of water that’s heated little by little over time.

Some people react to news that a bloodbath is planned for local animals; but few people protest when the disappearance is gradual. Yet gradual disappearance is the way animals are often erased.

 The Case for the Valley Forge Deer Moves to the Appeals Stage

Are “humane, non-lethal solutions” to perceived conflicts between humans and the animals in our midst a sort of boiling the frog? Slowly erasing the planet’s free-living animals as roads are widened and commercial development expands?

Friends of Animals and the local advocacy group CARE are responding not only to “inhumane” means of tossing more than 80% the deer out of Valley Forge Park (shooting), but also some purportedly humane ideas (such as restraining deer and darting them with drugs made to cause an immune response that attacks their ovaries, to keep them from having fawns in the spring).

Together with the University of Denver’s Environmental Law Clinic, we’ve examined the scientific research. And we are persuaded that the Valley Forge deer do not need us to control them. Nature itself is a powerful balancer-even in a five-mile park.

The coyote population in and around the greater Philadelphia region is artificially depressed. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has set a policy allowing for open season on coyotes all year. Yet coyotes do live in Valley Forge, and scientific evidence shows that a natural coyote population would, over time, check the deer population. The deer-control plan for Valley Forge ““ driven, in part, by a high degree of pressure from some residents of Chester and Montgomery Counties ““ failed to take this scientific evidence into consideration.

While our legal efforts did put the deer-control plan on hold during the winter of 2009-10, Judge Mitchell Goldberg of the federal court (Eastern District, Penn.) decided against our case in late October 2010. The killing of deer started on or about 1 November 2010.

Now, we’re taking our case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The deer-control plan at Valley Forge National Historical Park, we assert, is illegal. It should be set aside for good. We’ve requested that oral arguments take place in Philadelphia.

This is not just about what we don’t want. It’s about what we, as a community, should demand: respect for habitat that we have a duty to preserve. A genuine understanding of the animals living on this continent, of their biology and social interactions. Responsible conduct from the National Park Service, in view of its century-old conservation mission.

A process whereby the Park Service informs the public about coyotes, how they affect deer, and how they interact with humans would begin to dispel misconceptions about conflicts between coyotes and us. Those conflicts are usually traced back to humans interfering with the nature of coyotes by feeding them. Preventing risk means education ““ something that would help us all understand coyotes, and feel more comfortable with their presence in and around Valley Forge.

The federal case for the Valley Forge deer is the case for more progressive, healthy attitudes about interconnected populations of animals in Chester and Montgomery Counties and throughout the United States.

Oh ““ and keeping the frogs out of hot water.

~ Lee Hall, February 2011