Tuesday, August 22, 2006

CALIFORNIA NEWS: Park Service Recommends Deer Cull

Despite the impassioned pleas of local animal rights groups, more than a 1,000 non-native deer would be shot and killed at Point Reyes National Seashore if a new plan endorsed Monday by the National Park Service goes forward.
The park service would donate the animals' meat and hides to nonprofit or charity organizations. A California condor recovery program and soup kitchens have expressed an interest in the meat, and American Indian groups are interested in the pelts.

A final environmental impact statement released by the National Park Service Monday recommends 1,350 deer (800 axis and 550 fallow) be killed over 15 years by park service staff or contractors trained in wildlife sharpshooting.

The impact statement also recommends that the park service seek approval to use experimental contraceptives on 100 to 150 fallow does, which would be allowed to live. These drugs are not thought to be effective with axis does. There is no drug registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for contraception in deer.

Experts believe the plan would remove all non-native axis and fallow deer from the Point Reyes National Seashore by 2021. Park biologists are concerned that the axis and fallow deer will out-compete native deer and elk species for food, water and cover. The non-natives also carry disease.

The park service Friday published a notice of its preferred alternative in the Federal Register. After a mandatory 30-day waiting period, John Jarvis, director of the National Park Service's Pacific West region, is expected to give the plan his approval and begin implementing it. No other public hearings are required.

While Jarvis could reject the plan, "it's highly unlikely that will happen," said park service spokesman John Dell'Osso. "This is the final plan."

The decision elicited a sharp rebuke from Diane Allevato, director of the Marin Humane Society.

"It is extremely disappointing that the park service has chosen a lethal program with relatively meaningless concessions to birth control," Allevato said. "For all intents and purposes, they've chosen death as their preferred option, and that is tragic and unnecessary."

Trinka Marris of Point Reyes Station, leader of "Save the White Deer," a cadre of organizations and individuals opposed to killing the deer, said she still believes public opposition will prevent the slaughter.

"It's going to be a 15-year project," Marris said. "So I think the public has plenty of time to put pressure on the park to use contraception in a larger role than they intend to. We're just beginning."

The park service, however, cited a comment by Paul Curtis, an expert in wildlife contraception at Cornell University, to bolster its decision.

"After more than a decade of research, there is not a single case in North America where I would consider fertility control to be a success for controlling long-term abundance of free-ranging deer," Curtis said.

The plan also did not please the Marin Audubon Society, but for quite a different reason. The Audubon Society has stated its preference for using lethal means to eliminate all of the non-native deer.

"I think it's probably going to be more stressful on the animals and more expensive," to sterilize the animals, said Barbara Salzman, president of Marin Audubon. Because the plan will span 15 years, more deer will end up having to be killed than exist currently, Salzman noted.

Today, there are about 400 Columbia black-tail deer, which are native to Marin. There are about 250 axis deer and about 860 fallow deer.

The non-native deer live up to 20 years. Fallow deer are native to Europe and the Mediterranean, and the axis deer are native to India and southern Asia.

In the 1940s, the species were purchased by a West Marin landowner from the San Francisco Zoo, which had an excess of the animals. The landowner then released the animals on his property for hunting. When his land later became part of the Point Reyes National Seashore, which was established in 1962, hunting ceased. The ones that weren't killed began to procreate in the area.

The non-native deer eat 5 to 10 percent of their body weight a day, taking in a ton of forage a day, food that otherwise would be available to native deer. Rabbits, rodents and others animals are affected, too.

Fallow deer were once concentrated in the central part of the seashore but are now found throughout the park. Their range has been documented eastward, beyond the park's borders. They have been seen on nearby private property and state parklands. If the migration continues, management of the species could become difficult, according to the park service.



The Point Reyes National Seashore estimates there are about 250 axis deer and 860 fallow deer within the seashore area.

It evaluated five management options:

- Alternative A: No action. Monitoring activities would continue.

- Alternative B: Non-native deer populations would be controlled to a level of 350 for each species -- 700 total axis and fallow deer. Control would be over a 15-year period by National Park Service or contracted sharpshooters.

- Alternative C: Non-native deer populations would be controlled to a level of 350 for each species by both "lethal removal" and fertility control over 15 years.

- Alternative D: All axis and fallow deer would be removed by the year 2021 by National Park Service staffers or contractors trained in sharpshooting.

- Alternative E: All axis and fallow deer would be removed by 2021 through "lethal removal" and fertility control. This is the National Park Service's preferred alternative.

Read more West Marin stories at the IJ's West Marin page.
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at rhalstead@marinij.com

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