Monday, February 16, 2009

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: Large Cull Planned for Valley Forge National Historical Park

When drivers approach Valley Forge National Historical Park from the south on Thomas Road, they're often greeted by hordes of attentive, long-eared hosts:

The animals don't run from the noise of car engines. They don't bolt at the prospect of human contact. They stand and stare.

Soon those sentries may be gone.

Valley Forge officials plan a massive sharpshooting operation to kill up to 1,300 deer during the next four years, eliminating more than 80 percent of the herd and maintaining a much smaller pack through contraceptives.

Administrators say lethal actions are necessary because deer are devouring so many plants, shrubs, and saplings that the forest cannot regenerate.

"Our goal is to restore a natural, healthy, functioning ecosystem," said Kristina Heister, park natural-resource manager. "We feel we need to act now, and we need to act quickly."

The first shoot would take place next winter. Federal employees or contractors would fire high-powered rifles mostly at night, dispatching deer baited to areas with apples and grain. The rifles would have silencers. Some shooting likely would take place during the day in areas closed to the public.

Technically, park administrators are considering four plans to manage deer, with options ranging from doing nothing to killing most of the herd. But they've already identified sharpshooting as the best alternative.

The period for public comment ends Tuesday.

Angry animal-rights activists insist that shooting the deer is unnecessary, unethical, and dangerous to nearby residents.

"Free-living animals can control their numbers, and they do control their numbers," said Lee Hall of Devon, legal director of the international advocacy group Friends of Animals. "The best way to enable them to do this is to respect how they are, and where they are, because nature works."

She's unsure whether the park's count of 1,023 deer is accurate. Even if it is, she said, to say there are too many deer is to impose a human construct on a vital, healthy group of animals governed by larger, natural forces. [Editors note: at 5.3 square miles, this is over 200 deer per square mile]

The deer at Valley Forge, Hall said, get all the blame for environmental degradation, which is at least partly caused by auto emissions, construction, and trampling tourists. The Friends of Animals has urged park managers to think about bloodless alternatives, such as extensive fencing - measures that administrators have rejected.

For the full story visit: The Inquirer


seanmcn said...

Best to use an IPM method including hunting, fencing and repellents. DeerPro Winter Animal Repellent is now available in Pennsylvania and should help eliminate browse damage to woody ornamentals.

Tom Rooney said...

I agree that deer management needs to shift to an IPM (integrated pest management) framework. I think we are still 15 years away from this catching on in the U.S.

Lee Hall said...

Although we support the “no-action” alternative, the idea that the public must choose deer control or nothing is a false dilemma. Coyotes are beginning to re-establish themselves in the area. Should these natural predators gain a presence in the Park, they will remove some of the young, and also the sick, and thus check the deer numbers while promoting health in the deer. Unlike larger predators, coyotes could do well in the range Valley Forge Park provides. The National Park Service's Plan/EIS (Chapter 4) in fact acknowledges that animals of some species to whom deer are a food source, including foxes and coyotes, could benefit from high deer density and open understory conditions in Valley Forge Park.

The coyote population will, of course, take time to rebound, but this means we should promote their role in the ecosystem of our region. These predators, rather than be considered vermin by local residents, must be encouraged to prosper and to keep the ecological balance intact. The park administrators could and should diligently publish information to promote safety and respect for coyotes.

Lee Hall, Friends of Animals

Anonymous said...

In the absence of natural controls, a cull is the right thing to do.

There are far too many deer in the park, and they have become a hazard.

I don't hunt, but this overpopulation needs to be managed.


Anonymous said...

With hunters paying for most of the conservation in Pennsylvania as well as other states and the Penna Game commission saying that the deer in the state are property of the State until they make contact with a motor vehicle , how can you justify having a cull hunt in a National Park and plan on buring the carcases in a large pit rather than open the park to a public hunt, perhaps even charging a fee to appy for a chance to hunt there, even if only with crossbows and not firearms being offered to the one million licensed hunters in this state. At the end of the day they would not only ethically harvest the excess animals but would also make use of the meat and by products of the species they harvest.