Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: Lower Merion Hunt Scheduled, Friends of Animals Dismayed

As a planned federal deer shoot was scheduled to begin last night in Lower Merion Township, animal-rights activists expressed their opposition and compared it to the deer cull they have sued to stop in Valley Forge.

"The ethical issues are basically the same," said Lee Hall of Devon, legal director of the Friends of Animals organization.

Although the group sued to stop the plan to shoot more than 1,500 deer in Valley Forge National Historical Park, similar action has not been taken over the culling of 576 deer planned in the next several years in Lower Merion.

A two-person team, one shooter and one spotter, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be shooting deer in baited fields on township and private land all week from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. A USDA spokeswoman said the team will return for another weeklong cull in December, with the aim of reducing Lower Merion's deer population by 100 this year.

On a good night, the team could harvest up to 20 deer, whose meat will be donated to food banks, said Carol Bannerman, spokeswoman for the USDA. She would not specify where the cull would happen within the township. She said safety and efficiency concerns would prevent allowing private citizens to observe the hunt, which Lower Merion police are supervising.

"It can be a rather quiet operation," Bannerman said.

No township roads are being closed during the nighttime cull, in which the sharpshooter uses a silenced rifle and night-vision accessories.

Lower Merion and federal officials said the township's population is 44 to 58 deer per square mile, far above recommendations that suburbs have 10 deer, or fewer, per square mile. The cull is intended in part to reduce car-deer collisions in the township and the risk of Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks.

Hall said that safe, slower driving would be a better means to reduce auto accidents with deer, and that deer ticks could shift to family dogs and cats if the deer population is suddenly reduced. Deer culls, she added, are a brutal form of population control and often kill mainly the strongest animals.

"We are affecting evolution," she said.

Hall said legal action might be considered over the Lower Merion shoot, though the township is not subject to the national-parks laws under which Valley Forge was sued. No protest is planned against this round of culling, Hall said, though her group has a plan to distribute literature and post signs at the time of the planned December shoot.

Another area animal-rights activist and plaintiff from the Valley Forge lawsuit said she was unlikely to take similar action over the Lower Merion kill.

Though "definitely opposed" to all deer culls, Allison Memmo Geiger - president of Compassion for Animals, Respect the Environment - said her West Chester-based group, which sued over the Valley Forge shoot, has not been as active against the Lower Merion one.

"Valley Forge is a national park, so we were able to join with people on a national level for support," Geiger said. "I don't live in Lower Merion, so I have very little say there."

Source: Philly.com