Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Pending Lawsuit Offers Holiday Reprieve for Deer at Valley Forge National Historic Park

Deer grazing at Valley Forge National Historic Partk

I looked out an upper floor window of our home to a very picturesque scene of 8 deer, including a buck standing against the backdrop of newly fallen snow. I watched as the white-tailed deer grazed off the low-hanging tree branches in the backyard. Deer are creatures of habit, and contrary to popular belief, the majority of them do not migrate. A buck is known to travel upwards of 100 miles but does will stay within the same 3 to 4 square miles for their entire life. This means, the deer you see this year, are probably the same deer you saw last year. It also means that once they’ve found a food source in your backyard they’ll be back for seconds. Like so many Tredyffrin residents, we too have an ongoing love-hate relationship with these animals.

We have tried all the traditional and not so traditional remedies to deter the deer . . . human hair clippings, hanging bars of soap, special deer repellent sprays, etc. . . all with not much success. No one can deny how beautiful and majestic these animals are, but unfortunately they see our plants and shrubs as a buffet that we didn’t invite them to! While we’d like to enjoy their beauty, we can do without the widespread loss to our landscapes and gardens.

So, it is with great interest that I have followed the saga of the Valley Forge National Historic Park’s (VFNHP) long-planned and controversial kill of 500 deer. Currently there is a pending lawsuit by 2 animal-rights groups against VFNHP, Friends of Animals and Compassion for Animals. The animal-rights groups believe that the park should be maintained by natural means. A couple of days before Christmas, the deer were granted a holiday stay of execution with the recent lawsuit filing. The federal judge assigned to the case is not expected to rule before May 31, which means that it will be next November at the earliest before another planned deer kill can take place (depending on the outcome of the lawsuit). The park’s plan had called for contract sharpshooters to kill at least 1,500 deer over the next 4 years. The plan was for federal employees to use silencer-equipped rifles, mostly at night. The herd has grown big and destructive and park officials claim the kill will eradicate approximately 86% of the deer population.

In addition to the animal-rights groups, there is also concern from another local organization, Keep Valley Forge Safe. This group maintains that the gunfire could injure people living near or visiting the park. They doubt that the plan is safe, given that homes and shopping malls now surround the 3,500 acres where General George Washington and his troops spent the winter of 1777-78. Park officials claim that complete safety provisions are in place and that the proper public hearing process was followed. It is the feeling of park officials that the deer have created a crisis; they are eating so many plants and tree saplings that they are throwing the park’s environment balance and regeneration process off. The deer are also blamed for scores of vehicle accidents within the park each year.

Have you or anyone you know suffered from deer tick lyme disease? How close have you come to hitting a deer as you drive on the local roads? Do you support a deer kill in Valley Forge National Historic Park? Are you a Bambi-supporter and prefer that the park officials just leave the deer alone? Or, do you see our local deer population as 4-legged nuisances that destroy our gardens and put us and our cars in danger? For me, I recognize that we have a serious deer problem in this area and I also accept that there is probably not a perfect answer. But I would ask the question, if all possible solutions to the problem been explored and the deer kill is viewed as the best option? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.

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  1. Slow tortuous road kill or a humane controlled kill?

    I love deer and I live on Swedesford Road in the Great Valley. In the last three years I have seen four deer kills in my back yard, all from automobiles. In only one case did I see the automobile involved. In two cases the deer were dead when I found them having dragged themselves in my yard to lie in pain and die. In the third case I heard the impact of the automobile crash and looked at the road and saw the deer lying there stopping traffic until it struggled to get up and run off with its intestines dropping to the ground as it went. Even with obvious fatal injuries it moved too fast to try and track. In the fourth case the deer was alive in my yard when I discovered it. Its foreleg completely broken in two only held together by skin with the bone protruding out. When approached, the deer tried to run on the broken stub of bone but could not. I called the state game commission who sent an agent who put the deer out of its misery with his side arm. Unfortunately it was four hours before the agent arrived so the deer suffered in pain for at least that long plus the time between the accident and when I found it. I should have thought to video tape the suffering deer so I could share the experience with everyone on youtube. The last two cases were both this fall so the frequency seems to be increasing.


    The deer overpopulation is not only dangerous to humans from automobile accidents and lyme disease but is leading to numerous inhumane tortuous deaths of the deer themselves as described in my first hand experiences. We should thin the deer population using humane professional methods rather than random automobile Russian roulette.

    If the animal rights groups that brought the law suits preventing the kill are really concerned about the deer they should drop their suits and let the park professionals proceed with the action as planned.

  2. I hear Deer Lover’s concerns. Living on Yellow Springs Road, I have seen my share of wounded and dead deer and very narrowly avoided hitting deer dozens of times. Also, the incidence of Lyme disease is high among my neighbors and family.

    But to those who see the accident rate and prevalence of disease as reasons to kill deer, I say drive more slowly and be more vigilant. Use insect repellant and check for ticks. It’s part of living where we do.

    As an animal lover who believes we are encroaching on the deer’s natural habitat and are responsible for eliminating their natural predators, I am not satisfied that a massive deer kill is the best solution to their overpopulation.

    In other parts of our state, there is a shortage of deer. Why can’t we figure out a way to encourage their migration? Too expensive? Killing is cheaper? Not a good enough reason.

    Chester County and surrounding communities are spending millions of dollars to build an interconnected trail system for walking and biking. Can’t we invest some thought and taxpayer dollars in creating trails for deer to move to more rural, wooded areas? Now, they are trapped by a maze of highways and have nowhere to go.

    I know that a growing popluation of deer has been foraging on a dwindling supply of trees and shrubs, and that the damage has been occurring at an accelerating pace. But I believe V.F. park officials have presented the deer kill as the ONLY feasible solution because it is the fastest, cheapest way to rid the park of them.

    As someone who regularly enjoys walking in the park , I find the deer an integral part of its beauty. The thought that the vast majority of them will be picked off by hunters – hundreds per season for the next four years, makes me very sad. My sense of Valley Forge as a refuge for humans and animals has been forever changed.

    No doubt I’m in the minority holding this view, but I am relieved that the deer have been granted a reprieve. I hope the delay allows for consideration of alternatives to killing off these beautiful animals.


  3. A quick comment here: If nothing is done about the over-abundance of deer, our open spaces will become an ecological wasteland. For example, the century old oaks in Airdrie Forest Preserve will be replaced by spice bush. Is that something to bequeath to future generations?

    (Of course accidents, lyme disease (very unpleasant, from personal experience), and landscaping destruction are other major problems),

    That’s not to advocate any particular answer, but it is clear that the issue requires active intervention, unlike most other displacements where development takes over natural habitat.

    It seemed to me that the Valley Forge Park did a very thorough analysis, and came up with a solution that balanced ecology, safety, cost and indeed food bank benefits.

    In the long run, this issue is something that will need a Township wide solution, perhaps similar to the Lower Merion program.

  4. I agree with Deer Lover and John Petersen. The deer are woefully out of control. It never should have been allowed to get this out of balance, as now more deer will need to be eliminated. and now that a stay of execution is in place, we can expect the deer to encroach into more neighborhoods as they scavenge for food this winter. I love animals, all animals. But the original proposal by the park officials makes sense. And supplying food banks in the process is a win/win. Do we need more serious auto accidents involving loss of human life to get across the point? We no longer take our dogs to Valley Forge because picking off the ticks when we get home is just too much of a chore and worry.
    One last note: It’s a possibility that some residents may taken steps to “fix” the problem on their own. I have heard that bones that appear to be from deer were found in Westover Park last summer (that park that has been waiting to be cleared and become a park for 8 years now…but that is another story). Or maybe deer were hit by a car and then brought to the park to be dumped. I have no idea. But someone from the township might want to check up on that “park” now and then. It seems all but forgotten, overgrown and neglected except for the growing family of deer there.

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