White-tailed deer density in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park has increased an estimated 600% in the past two and a half decades, grazing on more than their share of a variety of undergrowth and leaving the forest without the necessary diversity of seedlings and saplings that keeps it healthy.
What to do about the deer?
About five years ago, the National Parks Service (NPS) notified the public of their intent to prepare a deer management plan. Many meetings, public comments, a draft EIS, more meetings, and many more public comments later, NPS published the Final White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.
Based on the final EIS, NPS prepared a Record of Decision cementing their plan to move forward with Alternative D, as laid out in the final EIS. Alternative D (“Combined Lethal and Nonlethal Actions”) called for a mix of chemical reproductive control and spy-thriller-worthy sharpshooting “by specially trained professionals.” The reproductive control, however, would only be used “when an effective chemical agent [becomes] available on the market.” The alternatives laid out in the EIS were largely based on a study concluding that the reintroduction of predators such as Coyotes has “been shown not to exert effective control on white-tailed deer populations.” Predator reintroduction didn’t even make the cut.
So sharpshooting* it is!
Or…not so fast. Shortly after the Record of Decision was published, animal-friendly Friends of Animals (FOA) filed a complaint in a district court, arguing that “NPS failed to adequately consider the reasonable alternative of increasing the local coyote population,” among other things. The court sided with NPS. FOA followed up with an appeal to the Third Circuit, and on June 20, 2011, the Third Circuit affirmed the decision.
During all this back and forth (minus a short stay after the initial complaint), the National Park Service was moving forward with the lethal part of their plan. According to a deer FAQ on the NPS website, more than 600 deer were “removed” from Valley Forge between November 2010 and March 2011. But the best part? More than 18,000 pounds of venison were donated to food pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations across Pennsylvania.
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* Lest you worry that humans be sharpshot, check out this excerpt from the EIS:Sharpshooting would primarily occur at night (between dusk and dawn) during late fall and winter months when deer are more visible and few visitors are in the park. In some restricted areas, sharpshooting may be done during the day if needed, which could maximize effectiveness and minimize overall time of restrictions. In this case, the areas would be closed to park visitors. In both cases, qualified federal employees or contractors would be located in elevated positions (e.g., tree stands) or in clearly marked, high clearance government vehicles on park-owned roadways or trails as appropriate.