Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: Deer Reduction Continues at Gettysburg

The National Park Service will pursue a less vigorous deer hunt this year at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site than in previous years, thanks to what it says is the success of the program.

Last year's deer survey showed that the Park Service achieved its goal of reducing the herd's density to 25 deer per square mile, said park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.

Lawhon said the Park Service, biologists, and the state concluded in 1995 - when the deer survey estimated that the park had 333 deer per square mile - that the park's landscape could support 25 deer per square mile.

But the deer have no natural predators on or near park land, and their numbers would grow without management, Lawhon said.

She said the Park Service aims to shoot 115 deer between October and March, down from 200 in 2004, when the park had 31 deer per square mile.

Those goals decreased with the deer's density. The park estimated 26 deer per square mile in 2005, Lawhon said.

Lawhon estimated that this year's program would cost about $5,948, excluding man hours, which is what it cost last year.

Lawhon said thinning the herd benefits the park.

"The intense browsing by deer was threatening the future of the wood lots because there were very few younger trees that managed to live or thrive," Lawhon said.

Lawhon said the deer also threatened the Park Service's agricultural program, where local farmers maintain farm fields that are part of the park.

"We found that there was so much damage to the crops that it was becoming less and less worthwhile for the farmer to lease the field," Lawhon said.

Lawhon said without local farmers cultivating the fields, the park would lose its 1863 agricultural appearance and make it harder for visitors to understand the landscape.

The Park Service also had a high number of car accidents involving deer when the animals roamed the park in large numbers, Lawhon said.

Lawhon said park employees shoot only antlerless deer to leave those with antlers for hunters on nearby land.

She stressed that this is not a public hunting opportunity. Only qualified federal employees are allowed to shoot deer on national park land in the herd-reducing effort.

The Park Service pays to have the deer butchered, and donates the meat to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg, Lawhon said.

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