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UPDATE: Hands off the Deer: Preserving the Peace in Valley Forge

February 10, 2009 | Deer

UPDATE: Click here to see Friends of Animals' full comments, joined by CARE of the Delaware Valley.

A Message From Lee Hall, Legal director of Friends of Animals (8 Feb. 2009) -- Last month, I attended a public meeting held at Valley Forge National Historical Park. It's known historically as a six-month headquarters for George Washington, and, more recently, as a safe haven for deer in suburban Pennsylvania.

With a few dozen other area residents, I watched a public slideshow presentation geared to persuade us to accept agents from the US Department of Agriculture in the five-mile park, with orders to kill the vast majority of the deer over the next four winters, then spend future years controlling the deer with a lab-created birth control substance, most likely leuprolide, a hormone-based formula.

It sounds like a large, chaotic experiment on the grounds of the now-peaceful Valley Forge Park.

The plan was outlined by a biologist. We're expected to defer. Yet the plan isn't right, natural, or needed. It doesn't uphold cultural values or environmental awareness. It's eerie on every level.

Since 2005, the Valley Forge Park deer population has decreased. Still, park officials don't approve of the amount of vegetation this now-stable population is eating. But deer need special concern in decisions involving the ecological balance of a space. Ethically speaking, conscious beings aren't just a factor to erase to solve a perceived problem.

Deer have always eaten native plants, plants that naturally regenerate. Expansion of the Penn Turnpike is a genuine threat to native vegetation with which deer are simply symbiotic.

Moreover, biologists acknowledge that coyotes are beginning to make a comeback. And unlike bigger predators, coyotes could safely exist in a five-mile park. The coyote population will take time to rebound, but this means we should promote their role in the ecosystem of our region.

I call on all Friends of Animals members and supporters, and every reader of this blog, to speak up for Valley Forge Park as a rare safe spot for animal life in the midst of suburban shopping malls and road construction.

To donate to Friends of Animals and support our work dedicated to defending the safety and dignity of the deer, click here. And thank you again for supporting "Alternative A: no action" against the deer.


Dear James Neary, The point that Valley Forge is a National Historical Park is significant, but you don't follow up with this, so I'll move on to the points you put forth. The Park Service is not actually arguing that they feel sorry for the animals who might starve. They are arguing a lot of things but essentially that several native plants are endangered. I went on a hike Thursday in the Park. I saw a good number of deer. None looked even slightly thin, let alone starving. Chronic Wasting Disease has never been a factor in Pennsylvania. And it is not OK to kill in private where no one is likely to witness the act. Why are you talking about the "introduction" of coyotes to the area? They live here. Lee Hall.

Dear Mr(s) Blog editor, I hate to inform you, I am NOT a resident of Pennsylvania, so please don't state your opinion as fact. I live in Alabama and have visited Valley Forge when Jimmy Carter dedicated Valley Forge as a National Historical Park in 1976. I have been back several times since. I find it hard to believe that a group of people who calls themselves "friends of animals" would want this deer heard to eventually starve itself to death. A sustainable deer density for a suburban area is about four to 13 deer per square mile. A large open space such as Valley Forge can sustain 20 deer per square mile. In 2006, the number of deer had increased to 244 deer per square mile. Do the math, they will starve themselves to death in a few years. Do nothing, and the deer heard will fall to CWD, TB and other diseases, and trust me, you would not want to see a deer with Chronic Wasting Disease. It is absolutely the worst way for an animal to die. How many visitors driving through Valley Forge would be horrified to see a deer along the side of the road dying of CWD? Wait a few years and find out the hard way. I know what you're thinking, "those same visitors may see a deer get SHOT". I highly doubt the Park Service will allow visitors into the areas where their sharpshooters will be working.

I am an animal lover. I do not eat meat, wear fur, and do not buy leather. However, I have a neighbor that hunts every year, first by bow & arrow & then when rifle season starts, by rifle. He only kills the deer he will eat. I am ok with this. It is by far less cruel than the torture and inhumane treatment domestic animals suffer on farms and transport and slaughterhouses. I am ok with the park hiring some sharp shooters to thin out the heard. I too walk thru the park, and their is absolutely no vegetation on the lower level of the forest. It is depleted and I did not notice any new growth at all. We need our trees most importantly - as they provide all with much needed oxygen!! We'd all be dead without trees! Song birds need this vegetation to nest and live (a birds gotta live too you know). Birds are essential for seeding and regeneration of forest, eating pesty bugs, and so forth. I would rather see the deer swiftly shot and killed, than the deer starving themselves to death. That indeed would be suffering! No, you cannot donate deer meat (I checked with a local high-quality dogfood company who uses venison already). They cannot certify the deer do not have something called "wasting a way disease" --a kind of mad cow disease in deer. Unfortunately, until humankind becomes educated on his/her impact on the environment, these battles will continue. I would rather see you spend your money on education, than on attorney fees for a battle that has a lose/lose scenario. [Blog editors' note: We're not OK with what you're OK with. It's propaganda to say the deer are starving so send in the so-called sharpshooters. And, our lawsuit is pro bono; no monies will be spent from FoA. As for Valley Forge, the place is largely paved with sidewalks and roads and then there are miles of grass. Trees were sacrificed for a soccer field look, so to talk about a lack of vegetation in the small, patchy wooded areas is absurd. Sounds like hunting propaganda. ]

As a degreed conservationalist, I find your reasons for allowing these deer (let alone any animal) to continue to over populate and diminish their habitat are far crueler than allowing them to be hunted. I am not a hunter, nor would I ever hurt any animal but I do beleive that population control is a healthy and NATURAL part of any ecosystem. As being part of the world ecosystem, we all need to realize our role in it. We, all of us regardless of vegetarian, omnivore, animal loving extremist, have damaged the complete natural balance of earth's ecosystem. how you may ask? We have removed the deer's natural predators every where. So unless you are implying that we should re-introduce timber wolves and mountain lions to heavily populated areas, humans need to intervene and keep the populations of prey animals in check. I have a book that I think you all should read, the first is "A Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold, a very very very smart conservationalist. If you decide to read this book make sure you read the chapter "Thinking Like a Mountain" Also read "Where the Wild Things Were" by William Stolzenbrg. Please know that I am a complete animal lover, but in order to appreciate wildlife for generations to come we all need to become conservationalists. What vegetation remains in Valley Forge needs to protected from an overly large herd of deer. Because the deer are eating the saplings and seedlings, new forest growth will not occur, when there is no new growth, nesting song birds will not be around, without nesting song birds, insect populations will grow unchecked and more vegetation will die, seeds will not be spread by birds and the park will turn into little more than field of weeds. We need trees, every single inhabitant on Earth needs trees no matter how small or big, please do not get so wrapped up in the issue of the deer population that you forget about the balance that needs to occur in every ecosystem There is no hunting propaganda going on in Valley Forge, in reality it is the only way that future generations will be able to enjoy nature and all of its inhabitants. Sincerely, A concerned inhabitant of Earth's ecosystem.

Dear Clandis, You say would never hurt any animal. This is significant, and I appreciate you for it. As you must already know, many conservationists only look at aggregates, and decline to consider animals as individuals. Are you sure, though, that rifles, silencers, and hormonal birth control or immunocontraceptives are a healthy and natural part of any ecosystem? And are they consistent with your regard for the well-being of individual animals? You say we have removed the deer's natural predators everywhere. Are you aware that coyotes could thrive in Valley Forge National Historical Park? Are you aware that coyotes in fact already do live in this area? Are you aware that coyotes, in pairs and in groups, naturally prey on deer? No need to re-introduce timber wolves and mountain lions to heavily populated areas. (Nor would that be fair to them. Recall that we are speaking of a 5-mile park. It would be for wolves what a little bowl would be like to a fish.) Please also recall that the Park has been established on farm land. You seem to think that the deer cleared the Park; not so. We are all for the presence of songbirds and natural vegetation. Please be assured that we are challenging the Park’s deer-control proposal based not only on our respect for the deer, but our respect for the entire biocommunity. Thank you for your interest in our work at Valley Forge. Sincerely, Lee Hall, Legal director of FoA - another concerned inhabitant of Earth's ecosystem.

Silence is the enemy of justice. Speak out against the unjust war on deer. Isaac Bashevis Singer once said, "There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is."