Activists fight for Valley Forge deer

By Diana Campeggio
November 10, 2010

Animal activists are fighting for the deer located in Valley Forge Park, after the park’s plan to exterminate large numbers of them was approved by district court.

Valley Forge National Historical Park has planned to kill over 80 percent of the white-tail deer that live within the five-mile radius of the park.

The Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Animals, an animal rights group, opposes this decision.

Left, a member of Friends of Animals stands next to a supporter of the cause in protest of the extermination of Valley Forge deer. --Diana Campeggio / Staff Writer

“Parks like this are actually a place where you should see nature,” Matt McLaughlin, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Animals, said at a recent demonstration at the park. “This is about animals trying to feed themselves. They aren’t trying to be destructive, they’re just trying to live.”

A peaceful demonstration to safeguard the deer was held on Nov. 7 in the park.

Friends of Animals believes the deer within the park are managing themselves.  According to them, nature decides how many deer should be in the park, not the United States Department of Agriculture.

Lee Hall, vice president of legal affairs for Friends of Animals, said there are reportedly between 1,000 and 1,280 deer in the park now, but the numbers are stabilizing themselves.  In 2003, the number of deer peaked with a reported 1,398 deer and the numbers have been decreasing since.

According to a news release by Valley Forge, sharpshooters will be brought in to shoot the deer at night for the next four years.  After the numbers have been brought to “31 to 35 deer per square mile from the current density of 241 deer per square mile,” they then will use contraception to continue to regulate the amount the deer will reproduce.

“It’s a way of keeping numbers down to some kind of ‘Disney-esque’ level,” Hall said.

Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit against the park’s decision last year when the shooting was initially supposed to begin.  According to the Friends of Animals website, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of the park’s four-year deer management plan.

Friends of Animals plans to appeal the district court’s decision in federal court but it is thought that the shooting has already begun.  The park was closed on the first Monday of the month and the Thursday night hiking club has bee cancelled for safety reasons.

“Picking up the gun was the first response that the park had and it was the one that they stuck with,” McLaughlin said.

Friends of Animals believes that in killing the deer, the park will be creating a vacuum. In lessening the deer population, more food would become available for those who survive.

With more food, eventually the does give birth to two or three fawns, not just one fawn.

The main issue Friends of Animals has is that they do not believe that the park has searched for alternative options to regulate the deer naturally or take the steps to co-exist with the deer safely.

One of the main problems that the park has claimed is that the high amount of deer are causing deforestation within the park.

Sharpshooters have been brought to Valley Forge National Historical Park to lower the deer population, which is currently being protested by local animal activists. --Jeny Varughese / Staff Writer

According to the press release by Valley Forge, “the plan addresses browsing of tree and shrub seedlings by an increasing deer population over the last two decades which has prevented the ability of native forests to grow and mature and has reduced habitat for a range of native wildlife species.”

But according to Hall, they are creating a “selective standard” for what native wildlife they are supporting.

“You cannot choose one form of wildlife over another,” Christine Carney, a Friends of Animals demonstrator and park volunteer, said. “The deer have as much right to exist as the plants do without interference.”

They also conclude that the park’s claim to deforestation is disingenuous, evident by the amount of features, such as monuments and gift shops, which the park has created.

“Again, we agree that the native plants are important, but is the park really using this for an honest reason to decimate the deer,” Hall said.  “That’s what we’re asking.”

The park has also claimed itself a “historical” park, but George Washington chose this area because the lack of vegetation promised him a view of Philadelphia.

“Instead of trying to create more foliage, create the situation that Washington would have seen back during the Revolution because it is a historical park,” Elizabeth Anderson, Friends of Animals demonstrator and retired teacher, said.

According to Friends of Animals, the park has not given the definitive answer that the deer are causing the problems of deforestation in the park.  They have even stated in their plan that if killing the deer does not solve the problem, they will then reevaluate the issue.

The park has also claimed that there is a problem with the amount of automobile accidents caused by the deer on roads through the park and in neighboring areas.  According to Hall, if people drive safely then they will have a lesser chance of having an accident because of the deer.

Friends of Animals believes that in installing federal programs to keep deer off the roads, people could co-exist with the deer safely. These programs use a series of reflectors to keep the deer from crossing roads.

In applying for these programs, some taxpayer money could be partially returned, in contrast to the millions being used to bring in the sharpshooters.

“This is a frivolous expenditure on the part of the federal government,” Anderson said.  “This is actually costing the taxpayers million and millions of dollars to have this slaughter take place in the next several years.”

Another issue is that in the state of Pennsylvania, there is currently year-round hunting of coyotes and other predators that could reduce the numbers of deer naturally.  Though Friends of Animals is not hoping to introduce more coyotes into the park, they believe that the ones that are here should be respected.

The park has mentioned coyotes, but the group feels that their assessment of them was insignificant.

“Pennsylvania can no longer have it both ways,” McLaughlin said. “Pennsylvania cannot continue to make an issue out of there being too many deer and at the same time, persecute any animal here that preys on deer.”

Friends of Animals will continue to have demonstrations at Valley Forge National Historical Park.

“We are not going away,” Hall said. “We are not going away until the deer have peace.”

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Diana Campeggio

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