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"It's a Victory": U.S. Officials Call Off Deer-Control Plan at Valley Forge National Park

December 24, 2009 | Deer / Hunting & Wildlife Management / Animal Rights

Valley Forge deer shoot postponed

Philadelphia Inquirer
By Jeff Gammage
Staff Writer

National Park Service officials have called off this winter's long-planned and highly controversial deer kill at Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Park Superintendent Michael Caldwell confirmed yesterday that the planned shooting of 500 deer would not go forward, as officials evaluate contractual matters and a pending lawsuit by two animal-rights groups. "It's a victory," said Michael Harris, who prepared the animal-rights suit as director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver. "They were going to go out and commence this hunt this winter, and [now] we've got our opportunity to have this decided."

Friends of Animals, a co-plaintiff, is pleased the deer have a "holiday reprieve," Harris said. He added the group "will continue to fight on their behalf until this illegal plan is fully set aside."

The plan called for sharpshooters to eliminate at least 1,500 deer in four years - 500 this winter, 500 the next, and between 250 and 300 each in the third and fourth years. That would eradicate 86 percent of a herd that park officials say has grown big and destructive.

...The superintendent declined to comment on the litigation. Friends of Animals and a second group, Compassion for Animals, Respect [for] the Environment, of West Chester, filed suit last month against Caldwell and other park service officials to stop the kill.

Animal advocates met yesterday's news with delight.

Full story in the Philadelphia Inquirer


One of the issues that Friends of Animals raised during the public comment period was that while FoA supports the "no-action" alternative, that the choice between controlling the deer through sharpshooting/contraception and doing nothing was a false dichotomy. There are a number of strategies that can be implemented that address the Parks concerns that do not include imposing control on the deer. In regards to cars hitting deer, here are two possible strategies that can be pursued. The first is the construction of fences that prevent deer from crossing roadways. Studies conducted in both the United States and Europe over the last 20 years have consistently demonstrated that well designed and maintained fences are the most effective way of averting these types of accidents. The second is the installation of the Strieter-lite system, which uses reflectors to deter deer, and other animals, from crossing a roadway until a automobile passes. The Strieter-lite system has been used in several states (e.g. NJ, MD, WA, NY, VA) and has been shown to greatly reduce these types of collisions. Installation of the Strieter-lite system is eligible for up to 90% funding under the Federal Highway Administration, Highway Safety Improvement Program and matching funds for installation can also be found under the Transportation Act for the 21st Century. These strategies, and others that could be implemented to address the other issues raised by the Park, should be part of a responsible policy that empowers individuals and communities to peacefully coexist with deer.

Valley Forge is my backyard. I feel mixed emotions about this topic for many good reasons. To live here, you adapt to your surroundings, we are in their world, they never asked for a main road right through their home. I know what time is a busy deer time, I've lived with this knowledge all my life. It's the amount of deer that becomes to be a problem. The deer now growing more and more each turn of the season they are the leading cause for all of the accidents here. They have caused a few deaths because of the massive amount of them. I think that control is a good thing, but no bloodshed, no rifles, humane way is birth control for some. That's only MY opinion on this topic. Laura

People often express that wildlife populations are "growing out of control" where they live. The key word here, however, is "control." Friends of Animals not only halted a brutal assault on these animals, but prevented further control of their populations through contraception. We need to respect their presence and understand that we have entered their space, not the other way around.

What has occurred here at Valley Forge park is now a model for other activists in other townships and cities across the U.S. The victory is not only for the deer in this park, although that alone is reason for jubilation; rather, the victory has ramifications for free-living animals everywhere. Further, to choose contraceptives as a way to "manage" their numbers is to deny the deer their autonomy. The problem here is not that there are too many deer, but that there are too many cars, developments, malls, and parking lots, all to accommodate an out-of-control human population in suburbia and elsewhere. The deer, as with all free-living animals, are capable of controlling their own numbers. It would behoove us to do likewise. In that way, we can ensure that there is space enough for all.

One of our supporters, a Philadelphia resident, just wrote in: "I heard the wonderful news! It's on the front page of my grandparents' hometown newspaper (Oneida, New York) of all things." We can expect this news to be carried to cities and towns all over the country, as it will have policy ramifications nationwide. The Guardian newspaper, which has a very large on-line presence in Europe and the Americas, has carried Inquirer writer Jeff Gammage's writing on Valley Forge to an international audience as well. The call to let animals live in nature on their terms has significance everywhere. At this moment - tonight - the deer are living in Valley Forge Park as they were born to live. No night-time rifles, no bloodshed, no pharmaceutical control. This is fair, it's safe, it's respectful, it's genuinely humane, and it's the ecologically enlightened way to proceed.

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