Search Our Site

Search form


Boiling Over: The Case for the Valley Forge Deer Moves to the Appeals Stage

February 14, 2011 | Deer

CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA "“ "Boiling the frog slowly" is a disturbing metaphor for people's failure to note and respond to serious but gradual harms.

The idea (not exactly true) is that a frog will jump to escape hot water but won't jump out of water that's heated little by little over time.

Some people react to news that a bloodbath is planned for local animals; but few people protest when the disappearance is gradual. Yet gradual disappearance is the way animals are often erased.

 The Case for the Valley Forge Deer Moves to the Appeals Stage

Are "humane, non-lethal solutions" to perceived conflicts between humans and the animals in our midst a sort of boiling the frog? Slowly erasing the planet's free-living animals as roads are widened and commercial development expands?

Friends of Animals and the local advocacy group CARE are responding not only to "inhumane" means of tossing more than 80% the deer out of Valley Forge Park (shooting), but also some purportedly humane ideas (such as restraining deer and darting them with drugs made to cause an immune response that attacks their ovaries, to keep them from having fawns in the spring).

Together with the University of Denver's Environmental Law Clinic, we've examined the scientific research. And we are persuaded that the Valley Forge deer do not need us to control them. Nature itself is a powerful balancer-even in a five-mile park.

The coyote population in and around the greater Philadelphia region is artificially depressed. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has set a policy allowing for open season on coyotes all year. Yet coyotes do live in Valley Forge, and scientific evidence shows that a natural coyote population would, over time, check the deer population. The deer-control plan for Valley Forge "“ driven, in part, by a high degree of pressure from some residents of Chester and Montgomery Counties "“ failed to take this scientific evidence into consideration.

While our legal efforts did put the deer-control plan on hold during the winter of 2009-10, Judge Mitchell Goldberg of the federal court (Eastern District, Penn.) decided against our case in late October 2010. The killing of deer started on or about 1 November 2010.

Now, we're taking our case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The deer-control plan at Valley Forge National Historical Park, we assert, is illegal. It should be set aside for good. We've requested that oral arguments take place in Philadelphia.

This is not just about what we don't want. It's about what we, as a community, should demand: respect for habitat that we have a duty to preserve. A genuine understanding of the animals living on this continent, of their biology and social interactions. Responsible conduct from the National Park Service, in view of its century-old conservation mission.

A process whereby the Park Service informs the public about coyotes, how they affect deer, and how they interact with humans would begin to dispel misconceptions about conflicts between coyotes and us. Those conflicts are usually traced back to humans interfering with the nature of coyotes by feeding them. Preventing risk means education "“ something that would help us all understand coyotes, and feel more comfortable with their presence in and around Valley Forge.

The federal case for the Valley Forge deer is the case for more progressive, healthy attitudes about interconnected populations of animals in Chester and Montgomery Counties and throughout the United States.

Oh "“ and keeping the frogs out of hot water.

~ Lee Hall, February 2011


Sometimes I feel like a boiled frog! What gets me about unwanted critters in the neighborhoods is first grab a gun. Blam! Blam! Why not relocate? Or leave these critters the hell alone and deal with it.

You mean relocate the humans? ;-) Thanks for commenting, Laurence. Good to see you here as well as on Twitter.

Have you read the Valley Forge National Historical Park White-tailed Deer Management Plan / Environmental Impact Statement Final Internal Scoping Report (downloadable from In it they address the prospect of introducing new predators and cite Coffey and Johnson (1997) that coyotes and bobcats "have been shown not to exert effective control on white-tailed deer populations." It seems clear to me that over the past couple decades the population in Valley Forge HP has boomed and become burden on the general wildlife in the park (just look at the browse line present across the park), a frustration to certain neighbors (browsing on gardens and ornamental plants), and a economic and public health hazard (car crashes, Lyme disease). As much as I love driving through the park in the evening and seeing the fields of deer, populations need to be reduced now to reduce the hazardous effects. FoA comments: Are you talking about reducing the human population to reduce its hazardous effects? Sounds harsh and is illegal in most cases. Oh no, you mean the deer. You want to blow out the brains of the deer. Please don't blame the deer for creating frustration (good heavens), economic and public health hazards, car crashes or Lyme disease. All those terrible things will continue on whether the deer are there or not.

I take it you are a vegetarian. Surely you are against the brutal treatment and slaughter of animals in factory farms as I am. I assume you are against hunting as well. The meat from the Deer reduction is being donated to food banks to feed the needy. It isn't a useless slaughter. Of course I don't think the deer are malicious. That would be silly. But you need to look at the facts. People die because of crashes with deer and more crashes with deer happen with higher population density. Lyme disease occurrences correlate with size of deer population. Deer eat ornamental plants (I don't think the neighbors are coming over and chomping on your yard). Forest ecology is being destroyed by over-browsing which comes from overabundance. I really don't understand why someone would be against killing deer. I'm curious what the underlying factors are. FoA comments: I guess the needy that are vegetarian are just out of luck. Even so, the "needy" don't need dead deer. They need jobs and respect. Giving them dead animals that no one else wants to eat isn't close to giving them respect. The hunters could eat the deer and then donate all the money they save on their food bill to the needy. But then they don't want to eat the deer either. First a reminder that "correlation is not causation." Next a reminder that a high density of humans is correlated to increased auto collisions and disease. Perhaps the hunters should harvest themselves. I am curious as to why they haven't thought of this already. Ecology is the study of change and not the bungling attempts by humans to maintain a static environmental system. Still, the biggest threat to the environment has two feet, not four.

Add new comment