White-tailed Deer and Valley Forge National Park

Gillian Lyons

Earlier this year, the National Park Service announced their plan to reduce the white-tailed deer population of Valley Forge National Park.  On October 4, the Service announced that the “lethal reduction phase” was set to begin this November and would take place over the next 4 years.  Overall, by 2014, the Service plans to eliminate 80% of the Park’s deer population, reducing the herd from over a 1000 to less than 200.  After 2014 the Park Service plans to maintain the herd’s shrunken population with the use of birth control.  The reason for this cull?  According to the Park Service, the deer population, overgrown as it is, is detrimental to the park’s flora and fauna- consuming more plant life than can be re-grown, and destroying habitat for the park’s other wildlife.                                     Animal advocacy groups Friends of Animals and CARE opposed the park’s plan to cull deer via sharpshooters, instead advocating the use of natural predators, such as coyotes to help reduce the population.  The Park Service’s response? The coyotes simply couldn’t kill the deer fast enough for the park’s needs.

Claiming, in part, that the Park Service did not sufficiently consider the alternative of natural predators, Friends of Animals and CARE filed suit against the Park Service.  However, in late October, a federal judge ruled that the Park could proceed with its plan to cull the deer population.  Currently, the groups have an appeal pending and filed for an emergency injunction on November 12th.

According to news sources, however, the hunt has already begun.  Just another casualty the human versus wildlife war, it seems.

2 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pace Law Library, Animal Blawg. Animal Blawg said: White-tailed Deer and Valley Forge National Park http://bit.ly/c1schF […]

  2. The National Park Service (NPS) has been burdened with the very undesirable task of figuring out how to manage the plethora of your friend and mine, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The white-tailed deer population in the Northeast has exploded over the last 50 years due to a decrease in predators, abundant food sources, and favorable conditions in the public eye. It is estimated that the white-tailed deer population in the Northeast is larger than it has been in the last 500 years. Deer, despite being cuddly and cute – especially those little spotted fawns, do bring certain problems to light with their overabundance (increased incidence of Lyme disease, over-foraging of native flora, collisions with motor vehicles, etc.).
    So, what to do with Bambi running amok? Controlling animals on federal Park lands, where there are no legal hunts allowed, presents a problem. Similarly, opening up the gates to hunters raises several issues that the federal gov’t is not willing to tackle. Who is entitled to hunt, what deer will be taken and how many, what if hunters are injured due to their own negligence (or just plain stupidity) or the negligence of others?
    The NPS undertook the required process in preparing an EIS and accepting public comment and holding hearings and info sessions. They came up with a combination of rapid culling by sharpshooters and subsequent management through contraception. Contraception???? How do they get the does to take those pills every day? Well, actually, they don’t. There’s a nice chemical they administer to the deer through feeding stations loaded with corn doused with the drug PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida). This drug has been used on about 40 species, including the wild horses out West and on the East Coast, and other deer populations in National Parks. I had the pleasure of working on one of the projects with PZP and white-tailed deer, being administered by the NPS and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to the deer living on Fire Island, which is a designated a National Seashore, managed by the NPS.
    The Humane Society has been aggressively pushing this drug for the last 22 years, like a crack dealer hawking his product on a street corner. The biggest crack dealer the Humane Society has is guy named Rick Naugle, a Research Associate with the HSUS. Rick doesn’t have a problem giving drugs to wild animals so that the animal’s reproductive cycle is altered. He doesn’t have a problem that when female deer have taken the immunocontraception, the breeding season (rut) is extended and males are negatively impacted for remaining in rut longer. He doesn’t mind that fawns are being born at different times of the year, upsetting the natural cycle and affecting fawn mortality. He doesn’t mind that animals that are no longer “vaccinated” have an altered reproductive cycle. And now researchers are noticing these side effects in other species as well, most recently horses, as evidenced in a paper published 3 weeks ago by Nunez, Adelman, and Rubenstein (Immunocontraception in Wild Horses (Equus caballus)Extends Reproductive Cycling Beyond the Normal Breeding Season, PLoS ONE 5(10), 10/26/2010).
    I have a problem with people who don’t want to kill any animals, but won’t think twice about administering a drug that alters its chemistry, physiology and reproductive cycle, so that we won’t be “bothered” by them. I guess quantity of life is more important than quality of life.

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