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Let coyotes, not hunters, control Valley Forge deer, animal-rights advocates say

October 18, 2010 | Deer

By Jeff Gammage
Inquirer Staff Writer

Deer graze in Valley Forge Park...

For months they've run on the periphery of the debate over the plan to shoot deer at Valley Forge national park: Coyotes.

A small number have taken residence inside the park, among the "urban coyotes" that dwell in places from New York to Chicago to Beverly Hills, Calif.

Now, animal-rights advocates are arguing that the number of coyotes in Valley Forge should be encouraged to grow, as a way to provide a predatory check on the deer and eliminate any cause for gunfire.

"It would serve as a natural form of population control," said Matthew McLaughlin, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Animals.

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You made me smile, David. My 150 acres is also protected forever, just as it is, by easements held by the NBLT. I don't live on that land, no one does and no one ever has as far as I know and likely no one ever will. Lee, I look in the mirror, I see things I don't like but fewer of them than there used to be and I am always trying to improve.

Drama and rhetoric however sincere is not going to solve this issue. We have gone, unfortunately, too far to let nature correct the problems made by humans. Considered, careful culling as the park suggests is the only solution. I am not happy that it is, but I think it is. And as an aside, if you want your land to stay open and undeveloped, enroll it with a land conservancy/land trust organization. This way it is treated as you wish beyond your lifetime, as it is a legal agreement that runs with the land and not the owner.

We must be the most dramatic of species, Ginger. We are just one species, and it looks like we are the most ecologically damaging one at that, yet somehow we miss ourselves in most of the rhetoric. We never want to look in the mirror. Imagine how this would look to most readers' eyes: "Drama and rhetoric, however sincere, is not going to solve this issue. We have gone, unfortunately, too far to let nature correct the problems made by humans. Considered, careful culling of our 6.8 billion is the only solution. I am not happy that it is, but I think it is." Offensive, Ginger? Why or why not?

Dear Ginger, My 272 acres is protected, as forever wild, with the North Branch Land Trust, of PA. A good thought, that one of yours. Keep passing that one on. David Forjan.

Sterlingak, I thought I made myself clear. My comments are specific to slaughtering these 2000 deer over 4 years. You follow? Your post is really about this: Where do we draw the line? Yes I do swat mosquitoes, gnats, flies. When they bite me. But no, I won’t spray chemicals to kill them pre-emptively. Many birds, especially that lovely Phoebe, rely on them insects. And the birds are quite entertaining, to me anyway. Here’s my line in the sand. We humans are not judge, not jury and not executioner of animals, for the sake of perceived convenience, or because they eat flowers, or because they may be in the road. Or because today’s scientist thinks NOW we have it all figured out. I really thought Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” would have humbled scientists to realize we ain’t that smart at all. I always like talking about Aldo Leopold. But you refer to the young Aldo Leopold. He wrote “Game Management” in 1933. Before he saw that “green fire in the eyes dying out” of the wolf he shot and watched die and regretted killing. When he referred to himself as, “young and full of trigger-itch.” The episode that changed him forever. After which, he grew up. And became THE Aldo Leopold. And saw the value of the wolf. And saw the necessary balance of nature. And advocated for wilderness, even co-founding The Wilderness Society. So no, THE Aldo Leopold was not about game management. That was the young Aldo Leopold. Then he grew up. Why do you, and others, fixate on “control” of nature. Advocate killing 2000 deer in the name of it? Why can’t you just let them be? And let Mr. Leopold’s “Thinking like a Mountain” come about. Life cannot be perfect, right now, every day, every year. It is not our place to decide for all other species, like God. Let me close with this. We humans have for centuries, acted like we know what’s best for nature. And nature is worse off than ever. So no, we ain’t too smart. With hundreds of years of a track record to prove it. And now, suddenly?, after hundreds of years of humans that went before us, and thought they were so smart, all of a sudden?, our generation, has become so ultimately smart, in one generation, that NOW we know how to “fix” nature? Just let them deer be. And think on this. I am continually stunned when people are vehement, vehement about killing. I can understand being vehement about alot of things. But being vehement about killing, that’s scary. And dear Meredith, I will never be a man of science. Science is the pretense of being so smart. I’m a Bohemian. For truth, beauty, freedom and love. Thanks for the nice wishes for this land.

So tell me, David. Do you kill off those nasty little buggers causing an infection in a cut in yourself or one of your faux-kids? Do you sterilize your dishes? Treat your "kids" for worms?Pull weeds in your garden? Slap mosquitos? Deny the black flies food by wearing head-nets? Of course you do. With your self-proclaimed reverence for all life, and proposal of letting "nature" handle all things, don't you find this a bit hypocritical? Or is it just warm furry things? Is it OK to kill in defense of self, others, the habitat, comfort, growing food, etc? - why or why not, in your view? If it is not, then your only ethical course of action is to check yourself out. Or is this just for some level of metal convenience or a delusional POV? I consider myself a participant in nature, as obviously does Meridith, not just an armchair observer. I kill things and if reasonably possible, I eat them. I do not kill things thoughtlessly or carelessly (well except for biting bugs and bacteria, maybe), although I may do so for convenience (mice in the house, food in the bush- yes, I COULD fly it in at many X the cost, but then that's consuming hydro-carbons... OH, what a delima !) There are not many tofu farms in the Arctic. The mere act of killing does not make one evil, cruel, or "mean". The idea of humans killing something as being "mean", "evil" "cruel" is an act of asinine judgement imposed only on ourselves, and not the wild ones- tho too many people DO erroneously extend it to wolves and coyotes (The only good XXXX is a dead XXXX.) Someday a wolf or bear, an only-wounded moose or an accident may kill me, and if found by a carnivorous critter, perhaps snacked on. I'm OK with that. Better them than a bunch of invisible "bugs", but that's OK, too. Either is better than being shot full of embalming fluid and put so deep underground in an impervious coffin that I may never get back in the real world. Aldo Leopold in Sand County Almanac said "A deer lives in fear of the wolf. A mountain lives in fear of it's deer". It follows then if you keep the mountain as a whole happy, the deer population is happy. If the deer population is happy, then the coyote/wolf population can be happy also. None of the above have the means to effectively control themselves except by severe swings of the pendulum at times. Surely moderating those severe swings among ALL parties as only man has the ability to do is a worthwhile endeavor? Which isn't to say we always get it just right... Oh, I forgot. A.L. was the "father" of those evil wildlife managers. Silly me.

David, You are clearly not a man of science, and so we will simply have to agree to disagree. We are both going to believe what we believe, and nothing will change that. Several causes I fight for could use your passion and endurance, such as abolishing canned hunting, putting an end to senseless deforestation, or banning "exotic pet" ownership. I hope that you fight for everything the way you are fighting for the deer, whether I agree with where you stand or not. I wish you peace, and hope that your land remains pristine and free. Meredith

Dear Meredith, You raise some good questions. First I’ll answer your question about my experience. I have 11 years and 10,000 miles of field work. On these same 272 acres of land in rural upstate NY. I live in the middle of it, 3/4 mile into the forest. A forest with deer, coyotes, bears (momma, her daughter and that daughters’s 4 cubs), raccoon, possum, red fox, bobcats, feral cats, 3 species of woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, eagles, harrier hawks, grouse, turkeys, turkey vultures and on and on. For the 10 years of my canine kids’ active lives, we walked at least 3 miles a day. Add it up. 10,000 miles we walked on this same 272 acres. And if you want to learn about nature, follow a canine’s nose. And that’s what I did. Heck, Thoreau himself only spent 3 months at a time at Walden Pond, for not too many years at all. Show me someone else who’s spent 11 years and walked 10,000 miles, LIVING in nature. Secondly, you speak of “massive infestation”. You talk about my rhetoric. What is the problem in your life of this? Are you saying you are incapable of avoiding a deer? In my county, in my 11 years here, I have never, not once, heard or read of anyone dying from hitting a deer. And I see at least one deer a day dead on the road. Ain’t nobody died here from driving into a deer, in my 11 years living here, 11 years worth of dead deer on the road. If the deer could talk, they’d call this one the other way. So what exactly is this problem you TRY to imply, with your own rhetoric of “massive infestation”. Please read on, you might very well learn something about yourself. You ask why am I better equipped to deal with deer better than you. I’ll answer that one directly. Because I care about life, all life. Not just human life. All life. And so I learn to deal with every animal, human or otherwise, and accept and tolerate and care and consider and observe and like and even love and coexist and I’m a much better person for it. I was gonna say this later but I’ll say this now. I am not like you. I will never be like you. No matter what. I don’t assume the role of God. I am not judge and jury and executioner. I will never, never, never, decide that others should die, so that I may live with a little more convenience. And about that vague comment about Cesar Milan, I don’t know what to make of that. But at least understand that my canine kids were my only kids. And so I treated them as though they were just kids, stuck in a toddler mentality, with endless mobility. I taught them at least 200 words or phrases. And they learned them all. They could understand at least 3 thoughts at one time. Like me telling them, “I have to go to work, I’ll be back in a little while, you guard the house.” They knew what all that meant, no matter what you or anyone else may think. A testament to animals’ intelligence. I never said that coyotes are “completely harmless”. I never said that. Don’t ever again quote me wrong. And Bambi didn’t scare me. She thrilled me. I adored her beauty. And you have no right, you yourself do not have the right, to deny anyone else of that, with your mean thoughts of animal slaughter. Now that I’ve addressed your points, I’d like to make one last point, my thought, about your note. You frighten me. Me, who lives with the pack of coyotes and vultures and bobcats and 400 pound black bears. BECAUSE you act and talk like you are a God... How in the hell can humans become so calloused, so mean, so violent, so insensitive, so selfish, that you can say, “deer management is a necessary evil.” But now that I reread that statement of yours, I understand. You are OK with evil. I told Curt he could call me. I do not extend that offer to you. Sincerely, David Forjan

Meredith, I'll keep this short, 'cause it's late. I do not believe, and I will never believe, that one can love nature and animals, and also recommend slaughtering hundreds of deer, because we think we're so smart, so important. But if I ever do come to feel that way, I'll shoot myself, only. david p.s. It's quite disturbing that you think "evil is sure to follow". A self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mr. Forjan, I apologize if I offended you. You certainly have offended me. But I'd like to clear a few things up. You should have no reason to fear me. I find that laughable. I do not speak or act like I am a God. I speak and act as a scientist. I base my opinions in science. Research tells me there are too many deer (an infestation, a plague), there are not enough natural, large predators to cull them (in a method you are at peace with), thousands upon thousands of people are killed or injured each year in vehicle collisions with deer, they are carriers of disease, and that they are destroying our forests. Deer have actually eaten rare plants into near oblivion. Since you so love, respect, and appreciate the fauna, I would assume (and perhaps incorrectly) that you would feel the same of the flora. "And, more importantly, when they see a human, they run like the dickens. They know to avoid us." This would be the statement you made that I based my opinion on your attitude on coyotes. That statement, to me, shows a blase attitude towards the coyotes. As I stated in my previous comment, there are times this does not happen. Habituation is a huge concern of mine. You are very fortunate to live on WILD acreage. But in nearby cities I get reports of a bear in a restaurant dumpster, with no fear of a busboy bringing out a bag of garbage. Coyotes snatching pets from within feet of their owners. THAT scares ME. It is an omen of things yet to come. I am curious what breeds of dogs you own? Forgive me for finding it hard to believe that your dogs are superiorly intelligent. I have worked with many intelligent dogs, but perhaps their instinct for certain things was stronger than their understanding of complex phrases. Perhaps before you judge me so harshly, you would like to know a thing or two about me. I understand that you live on pristine acreage, and walk your dogs there. You were quick to judge me as an evil person, and to quote you "Show me someone else who’s spent 11 years and walked 10,000 miles, LIVING in nature.", well, you're talking to someone who has. I too live on a beautiful, rural sprawl of gorgeous acreage, and I have fur-kids I enjoy time with in our forest. It has been that way for 27 years, and I hope (though I can't say what will become of my land when I die) that it stays wooded and beautiful. I am trying hard to teach my human daughter to appreciate nature as much as I do. You wouldn't have guessed that on your quick judgement of me, would you? I sit at night and listen to the coyotes. It is one of the most beautiful things I hear, music. I adore that I have them here, as well as the deer, bear (2 adults and 2 cubs this year), bobcats, fox (we had a den right off the yard, I have amazing photos of the "petits" as I called them), etc. I once hit a bobcat with my car, and I didn't get out and jump for joy. It broke my heart. I stopped, in the middle of a 4 lane highway to see if the poor beast had hope to survive. What hurt me the most that night is why a bobcat (or any animal for that matter) is forced by human development to cross a 4 lane highway. This was in a city about 45 minutes north of my land, which encroaches beautiful forested land that is eaten into by apartment complexes and sub-divisions every day. So, YOU have no right to call me a cruel, God-like person because I believe in reducing deer numbers. I am a biologist. I believe in conservation. But I also believe in wildlife management. To avoid further upsetting you, I will directly quote you "No one should try to do “wildlife management” except the wildlife themselves. No human is capable of comprehending all the intricacies of nature". Sadly, the world we live in today, humans have done so much damage that only we can fix it. Wilderness is a myth and it is our fault. No, I can study and do field research, and spend days upon days in the lab, and I admit that I will never know ALL of the true intricacies of nature. And believe me I WANT TO. But what I know are the cold, hard facts and numbers on the deer. The scientific data. And that is where I feel your opinion is starry eyed innocence, and you find mine evil. But then, wherever there is innocence, evil is sure to follow...


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