A First Battle at Valley Forge?
The National Park Service&'s War Against White-Tailed Deer

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Originally Posted:  9 October 2009

A First Battle at Valley Forge?
The National Park Service's War Against White-Tailed Deer

by Anai Rhoads

AnaiRhoads.org -- There has been a battle going on for decades over whether or not to diminish certain animal populations through hunting. Whether they are vaunting birth control methods, snares or traps, or the direct shooting of free-living animals, governments and pro-hunting groups attempt to push aside the obvious problem: human encroachment.

The human population has doubled since the 1970s, and this influx of bodies has led to more homes, malls and highways being constructed on land where animals once lived. This encroachment has pushed, isolated, and even starved animals as they try to compete for space and food.

A prime example would be the situation taking place at Pennsylvania's Valley Forge National Historical Park, where, as Friends of Animals (FoA) reports, the federal government wants to bring sharpshooters to kill White-tailed deer. Under a hefty federal proposal, nearly 80 percent of an estimated 1,023, deer will be killed. As the deer raise their young, more are to be shot, so park officials intend to kill some 1,300 deer over the next four years. It all boils down to the officials wanting to shoot these deer for the next four winter seasons, beginning this season, until they have reached their quota -- or see forest regeneration. This is said to be no easy trick when the state keeps widening roadways, such as the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike.

What prompted the call for violence in this oasis in the middle of suburban sprawl? Wealthy residents from the northeastern Chester and southwestern Montgomery counties complained that the deer were roaming into their gardens and feeding on their ornamental plants and shrubs. This sparked an interest in introducing hunting of these animals along the five-mile stretch of the park. Regular hunting isn't easy to bring in, however, under rules that govern the national park; so they are talking about bringing in people hired through the federal agriculture department to do the job. This way, the government frames their intrusions as management rather than hunting.

Native forest plants are the red herring in this issue. We humans cannot justify taking over an area that is home to these animals. We simply cannot keep building where animals are confined ever further, then shift the blame onto them.

The deer of Valley Forge have reduced their numbers on their own accord over the past five years. Even where deer are numerous, it's an odd argument that insists humans need to be predators while all along we're treating the real predators as nuisance animals. Predators are vital to sustaining an ecological environment. For example, the war on the coyotes in Pennsylvania, where they can be hunted down all year, has shifted the natural order. In addition to bringing in the weapons, the National Park Service seeks to implement a contraception program, which may lead to the collapse of what's left of the park's White-tailed deer population.

The agency claims its birth control plan would help prevent the deer from over-populating. Yet putting White-tailed deer - or any wild animal - on birth control is an ethically questionable interference with the animals' own natures. Lack of access to food and water, or even moderate stress, can throw an animal's fertility cycle into a condition called anovulation, where ovulation ceases until the right conditions are met. There are other animals with this same capability, including humans. Generally, animals breed according to what their environment allows, and don’t need humans to interfere with their fertility.

The perpetually shy White-tailed deer usually come into heat in November for a short 24-hour period. If conception hasn't taken place, a doe will go into heat again 28 days later. Mating occurs only from October to December - which means the sharp-shooters will be killing pregnant deer, in addition to others, for years. The contraception is to take place in later years, according to the plan, if the officials find a substance with which they are comfortable.

The National Park Service has written out four basic alternatives to deal with the White-tailed deer in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania:

Alternative A - Involves taking no action. This includes no lethal force and no contraception to minimize the population. Biologists will continue to test for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) when a deceased deer is discovered. Alternative A is the most favored by FoA, because it eliminates the unnatural domination over these animals.

Alternative B - This alternative would introduce a combination of control activities, involving contraception and fencing.

Alternative C - Per square mile, 31-35 deer would be killed or captured and adjustments would be made based on forest regeneration.

Alternative D - The Park Service is in favor this alternative, where sharpshooting and possibly contraception would be used. In addition, "active lethal surveillance for CWD" has been added. This means some deer will be killed and tested for Chronic Wasting Disease, despite no known cases of this disease in the state. The park officials are essentially using CWD as an excuse based on positive cases seen in New York and West Virginia.

A Pattern of Control

This issue is also going on in Washington D.C.'s Rock Creek Park where the Park Service has laid out a plan that mirrors that of Valley Forge, further suggesting that the stated reasons behind the removal of these deer were result-oriented, and not genuine, location-specific answers.

These proposed killings are sponsored solely by your tax dollars. The recurring annual costs for sharpshooting the deer will range from $112,363 to $176,817. For the birth control plan, it will cost the taxpayer anywhere from $108,363 to $194,517 annually. In contrast, Alternative A -- maintaining a perfectly acceptable status quo in the park -- could range from $14,828 to $32,567 depending on any positive CWD results. As there are no known cases in the state, the actual cost increase over what we pay now is likely to be zero. One has to question if the tax burden the government is proposing makes any sense.

In addition, the opportunities for human-to-human accidents will greatly increase when these sharpshooters are let loose. There are a number of homes in close proximity to this area, and there are numerous busy roadways winding through the park. Children might witness these cruel acts as well.

In short, if residents don't want the deer to inhabit their space, then they need to stop invading theirs. Killing and "maintaining" a population of deer to satisfy the whims and wants of a few resident complainers is unacceptable.

What You Can Do

Contact your local representatives both in Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania and express your concerns regarding these actions against the White-tailed deer. Send a copy of what you write to Friends of Animals' legal director, Lee Hall, at [email protected]


The Honorable Arlen Specter
United States Senate
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3802
DC Phone: (202) 224-4254
Fax: (202) 228-1229
Contact Form

The Honorable Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senate
393 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3804
DC Phone (202) 224-6324
Fax: (202) 228-0604
Contact Form

Valley Forge National Historical Park
Kristina Heister, Natural Resource Manager
(610)783-0252 or [email protected]
Valley Forge National Historical Park Fax: (610)783-1060

Governor Edward G. Rendell
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120
Phone: (717) 787-2500
Fax: (717) 772-8284

Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D - At Large)
DC Phone: (202) 225-8050
Fax: (202) 225-3002
Contact Form

Executive Office of the Mayor, Mayor Fenty
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 316
Washington, DC 20004
Contact Form or dial 311.

Superintendent Rock Creek Park
3545 Williamsburg Lane, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Headquarters: (202) 895-6000

Copyright © 2009 AnaiRhoads.org - republished by permission.

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