Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Protests & Gunfire Headed for Valley Forge Park Next Month!

I guess we should prepare ourselves for protests and gunfire: the Valley Forge deer hunt is set for next month. The “lethal reduction” will begin in November and end in March.

Valley Forge National Historical Park officials say sharpshooters will start killing deer next month and end the first season in March, with a goal of killing 500 animals this winter. They say the park can support about 35 deer per square mile, and the current population is about 240 per square mile, or about seven times what it should be. The program, run by a federal agency will send out a small team of professional hunters with silencers and night-vision equipment to reduce the herd. The agency employs sharpshooters and the contract calls for eliminating another 500 deer next winter and 250 to 300 more in each of the last two years of a four-year deal.

Park managers say they need to thin a herd that has grown large and destructive, devouring young trees and other environmentally-sensitive vegetation. In addition to decreasing environmental damage, the officials claim the reduction in deer will decrease the spread of Lyme Disease and vehicle crashes.

They originally planned to start the deer hunt last winter, but they delayed it so they could evaluate contractual issues and pending lawsuits by two animal-rights groups. Animal rights activists say the shootings are unnecessary and dangerous to people living nearby. Park officials respond that the hunt will take place during overnight hours to protect the public.

I understand that there is very real problem with deer in the park, but . . . is killing 500 deer the only answer? Animal activists were able to delay the hunt by a year with legal wranglings and are promising more intervention next month.

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  1. Does anyone know what the plan is for handling the culled deer? I hope there are plans to give the venison to persons/families in need. I’m not a fan of this deer reduction plan, but there would be some redemption in knowing that the deer meat could be used by those in need.

    1. Disillusioned in Tredyffrin…. Why not be optimisitic no matter how the elections go, and be “Optimistic in Tredyffrin” It must be tough waking up every day disillusioned!

  2. Unless you are a hunter, this is an incredibly painful concept to digest. However — I grew up in this area and enjoyed Valley Forge Park. Now I cannot bear to be there — afraid to drive the streets because the deer own the place. People say we have taken their habitat, but I learned something about this when I researched awhile back….we have CREATED habitat. Deer live in “clearings” — they dont’ live in woods. So by clearning land, they have more places to go. It’s really not safe to drive in october/november at night and I’m more worried about drivers being hurt.
    Then again, if there was any profit in taking out deer, maybe there would be more scientific research on sterilization or birth control. Is there any alternative to this? I certainly expect the deer will become food — but have no idea how it will all be handled.

    1. Rather than the inconvenience of having to drive carefully, an entire deer community needs to be take out? You know what? The deer DO own the park. That is their home. The rest of us have houses to live in. Many of us in new, urban-sprawl developments that used to be where these deer lived. Birth control is an option, but apparently not quick enough for for people that care so much about the deer “starving” or the way the foliage looks in the park they visit a few times a year. I’m disgusted by the decision and anyone who thinks the only thing that really matters is human safety and convenience. These animals aren’t as different from us as many people would like to think. But, hey, as long as homeless people are getting some nice venison steaks, I guess it’s all worth it.

      1. Marcia
        I think your claim that the hunt is taking out an entire community is a bit over the top. Isn’t it more like 500 deer over a period of time?

        Not sure why you chose to respond to this posting, as there are several following your response that address much of this.

        I also did some research and Andrea is right — the deer did NOT live where we live as you claim. Deer increased in population WITH the developments, as they flourish in cleared areas, not woods. Even BAMBI’s Mom was shot in the clearing, not the woods.

        Nature has a balance. As we have developed these areas, though, there are more deer and no coyotes. There is no balance to the deer — no natural predators and not enough food….so would you rather they starve to thin the herd? Or maybe the idea of introducing coyotes to the community to eat the deer seems more appealing?

        I’m sorry this hurts you. Really am. But you are over the line suggesting that the deer accidents in this state are because people dont’ drive carefully enough. And no — the deer do not own the park. We all do. We co-exist, but the deer have overrun the park so it’s time to rebalance.

        1. The response was to your posting but also several others. The theme I keep hearing is, yeah, well, we caused this problem, it’s a shame, but the only way to fix it is to put apples in bucket and then kill off most of the population when they come to eat. 80 percent is most of the population, by the way. There are other alternatives and a lot of help from humane organizations that was offered, but this way was apparently the cheapest and the most expedient. I love nature and trees too, but I could live with the forest not growing a few more years if it means a slower solution to population control. Believe it or not, I also think I could continue to enjoy the park even if it was “overun” by deer for the next few years. There’s a huge difference in philosophy between having respect for individual beings and viewing the park as “ours” with the deer also as “ours” who have become a problem tenant. The whole discussion (not yours, I know) about how it would be a shame to let “the meat” go to waste clearly underlies the prevalent thinking that everything exists for us to use and enjoy and so it OK for us to “manage” these animals any way we see fit when the “nuisance” starts to outweigh the beauty.

        1. Marcia
          I really don’t agree with you about humane alternatives. If you google ” Overrun by Deer”, you will find hundreds of “hits” on the problem throughout the country and Canada. The deer population is exponentially increasing. Clearing land EXPANDS the deer population — we are not taking their habitat, we are creating more.
          And the only way to enjoy the park right now is with knee socks and hats….on foot. Driving through the park is scary (never at night), and walking through the grass is so likely to result in deer ticks that it’s almost folly to consider it.
          I picnicked in the park as a kid — put a blanket on the ground now and wait about an hour… won’t do it again anytime soon.

          Check out this background info:

          Here is research from Cornell from 1997!

          Population History
          In the early 1900’s there were an estimated 500,000 white-tailed deer in the United States. Unregulated commercial hunting and subsistence hunting threatened to eliminate the white-tailed deer from much of its range. At that time, many state wildlife agencies were formed with the goal of conserving the nation’s depleted wildlife resources. Hunting regulations were put into place, and the harvest of antlerless (female) deer was prohibited. The rebound of white-tailed deer populations that followed is considered a wildlife management success story. Today there are over 20 million deer in the United States and numbers are rising. Successful management was one of the keys to increasing populations. However, other key factors have contributed as well. Around the turn of the century, large predators such as wolves and mountain lions, were eliminated from much of the white-tails range, removing the natural check on deer numbers. More recently, habitat changes, including reversion of abandoned farm fields to forest, and human population shifts to rural and suburban areas, have created mosaics of open and forested land ideal for deer. In addition to habitat changes, landowner decisions to prevent hunting have limited hunter access to many areas, allowing populations to increase.

    2. Besides the cruelty and loss of an important attraction to VF, the deer hunt is an unecessary waste of millions of dollars.

      Reasons cited for reduction and counterarguments to every reason (see for the complete argument):
      1. neighbors of the park complain about ornamental plants being eaten: fences are a much cheaper solution than the planned reduction and logically should be done at the expense of the homeowner, not the government.
      2. Concerns over native plants being eaten and invasive species proliferating: A study conducted by the Smithsonian Institution – National Zoological Park and Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources has show that both fencing and removal of invasive species have a more significant effect on allowing regeneration of native vegetation and that deer have little impact on allowing invasive species to proliferate.
      3. CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease): According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, CWD has not been found in PA and there is no evidence it effects humans.
      4. Control of Lyme Disease: The American Lyme Disease foundation states “nymphs are responsible for nearly all human lyme disease cases”. “nymphs” being small mammals and birds, not deer.
      5. deer collisions with cars: Cars hit deer most when deer are being killed. The Streiter-Lite system and RADS are very effective at reducing accidents. In addition, the speed limit could be reduced from dusk to dawn. Believe it or not, driving carefully really can prevent accidents.

      Evidence that doing nothing is the best option.:
      1. Deer can control their own numbers. The population peeked a few years ago at close to 1400 and has declined by several hundred since. It is a myth that the deer are “starving”. They have actually also decreased in size to adapt to their numbers.
      2. Coyotes can have a significant impact on maintaining numbers that are already declining via deer adaptation. 3. There are problems with deer birth control including painful areas where it is administered and bone problems.
      4. The option to do nothing will save taxpayers millions of dollars. As it stands, taxpayers are spending millions to satisfy a few squeaky wheels.

      1. “fences are a much cheaper solution than the planned reduction and logically should be done at the expense of the homeowner, not the government.”

        Why not just allow a homeowner to kill deer that come onto their property?

      2. The numbers in VF park have “declined”….what anecdotally appears to be true is that deer have simply expanded their region so they no longer appear in the park counts. I know that I don’t live “in the woods” and I have 10+ deer that somehow come into my yard to sleep. SHould I be building a fence to prevent that? Maybe I should buy a coyote? I see foxes now…nothing defers these deer, and I don’t have ornamental plants for them to pursue. I live near woods — and some nights when I drive home, I see herds of them walking down the road. So please don’t fall for the illusion of the herd naturally thinning.

        1. Possibly. FLIR can also account for near-perfect accuracy in open areas but less so in wooded areas. However, here’s some more interesting reading that goes hand in hand with your comments:

          Hunting deer under the guise of conservation has never been an effective control for deer populations. The purpose of wildlife agencies is not to control deer populations but in fact, increase the population to accomadate hunters. When game commissions purposely disrupt the sex ratio or natural balance of a deer population by killing large numbers over a short period of time, the herd will increase because more food will be left for the remaining members of the herd and since deer reproduction is affected by the available food supply, increased birth rates will result.

          Wildlife Agencies actually use a formula called “maximum sustained yield” for achieving maximum reproductive rates each and every year. This is done by killing about 70% of the Bucks but restricting the amount of females or Does that are killed. There is a reason why most states require hunters to purchase Doe licenses separately, they are strictly controlled for breeding purposes. Thus by insuring a large number of females are spared, this system guarantees a prolific breeding supply that will maximize the birth rate every year and yield an unlimited number of live, animated, targets for the hunters gun.

          There are also other factors that are inter-connected with the “Maximum Sustained Yield” program, that wildlife agencies use to intentionally increase the size of deer herds. There is habitat manipulation, such as clear cutting forested areas to generate new growth that is the preferred food of deer. The planting and cultivation of deer browse also attracts deer and contributes to increased birth rates. The killing of natural predators like wolves and coyotes by hunters also plays a part in the reproductive rates of deer.

          In nature, without the interference of man, there are biological limits on the amount of deer that can inhabit a specific area. A deer herd cannot continue to increase indefinitely. When a deer herd expands beyond an ideal level in an area that is not hunted, stress will result in die offs as a result of competition for food. If we factor in natural mortality rates as a result of old age, predation, sickness and disease, the strongest or fittest members of the herd will survive and the weakest will perish. This is nature’s way of maintaining order in the natural world. This is done slowly over time, unlike the wholesale slaughter of deer during a hunting season. This natural phenomena will assure that the healthiest deer contribute to the overall biological diversity and well being of the herd. Hunting is nothing more than “evolution in reverse,” because hunters kill the prime specimens and leave the weaker members to reproduce.

          I am sure many of the readers here are familiar with so called “controlled hunts” in city parks, wildlife refuges, and state parks. Here in the Philadelphia area, there are several state parks that instituted hunts to supposedly control the deer population. They started as “one time” hunts and are now entering their 15th year. These hunts are taking place in suburban and urban parks all over the country with the same failed results higher reproductive rates, more deer each year, and more failed hunts. If hunting actually controlled the deer herds they would not have to continually hunt these parks year after failed year. The reason we now have more deer that at any time in the history of our nation, is solely because hunting is designed to maximize the birth rate of the deer.

          Hunting is not conservation. You don’t conserve something by killing it. Hunting is a huge source of revenue for state wildlife agencies and is a self perpetuating endeavor for those that promote their bloodlust for what they refer to as “sport.” If we ever really wanted to control wildlife populations we would simply leave these animals alone. Mother nature is the best wildlife manager, not man.

          Learn more about this author, Joseph Yannuzzi Jr..

  3. more delay is a real problem. Poor deers.. Another example of extremist idiocy when rational answers are sought and found. Thought maybe if some plants were saved that would appease the loons.

    Hope an environmental activivist or their kin isn’t in the way of a deer.

  4. Now I can’t quote where I remember reading this, but I believe when they postponed the culling last year, the plan was to have the meat sent to Philabundance or another charity for the needy.

      1. yes, it would be put to good use. Especially with poverty on the rise, unemployment way high and homelessness on the uptake…

  5. I am a deer hunter and have been one my entire life. Because of this, I have also been able to gather a great deal of information re: controlled hunts, alternatives, etc. I will briefly share some things I hope will help answer your questions…

    First, this type of night-time, controlled hunt utilizing professionals is among the safest that can occur. This is particularly true when they are well-coordinated with local law enforcement as this hunt seems to be. Because the Park is utilized by so many citizens, this approach is probably much better than using a “lottery tag” system that allows everyday hunters, using bows, to perform the herd culling

    Second, most controlled hunts (I won’t say this one for sure) do provide the venison they produce to food banks or other similar charities.

    Finally, there have been numerous studies undertaken on hunting vs. alternative options (sterilization, moving deer, etc). Quite simply, nothing is as effective. Sterilization requires multiple attempts and constant monitoring. Relocation actually seems to cause death as the deer, for some reason, do not re-acclimate to their new surroundings.

    Hope this helps a little.

    1. In Schuylkill Township where I live, the BOS recently granted hunting permits on the Pickering Preserve. This is land owned by the township as open space.
      It was thought that the overcrowding deer problem was causing too many accidents and allowing the overcrowding was actually cruel to the deer who were struggling for enough food. I am not sure but do not recall there ever being this allowance before.
      Accomplished hunters set out and I now wonder if they were allowed to keep the venison (one of my favorites).
      It would have been a great gesture by the BOS that they mandate that 50% of the processed meat be given to the needy. The Valley Forge overcrowding affects our communities (Schuylkill and TE) and I for one am glad they have opened this open. If it is done with safety first, this is a win win for people and the remaining deer alike.

  6. I just ran across an interesting article on regarding the odds of being in a deer-car collision. According to the article, drivers in PA have about a 1-in-85 chance of striking a deer with their car. This is the 6th highest rate in the country.

    If you speak to the park rangers or the emergency service organizations that provide coverage in and around the park, they will tell you that there are many accidents involving or caused by the deer. It’s a serious safety problem.

    No one can dispute that there is a deer over-population problem in VF Park that desperately needs attention. Whatever the method, I’m glad they are doing something to finally address the problem.

  7. I don’t see why anyone – or at least meat eating people – would be opposed to this professional culling approach to solve a very serious safety problem…if the venison is donated to food banks.

  8. People who live in the area can report on how many deer leave the Park and make their way to neighborhoods. I see groups of deer several times a week on Chesterbrook Blvd and our side streets, and have had two close calls while driving – it’s not always possible to see them before they dash across the street.

    If the Park is not overpopulated with deer and it can adequately feed all of them, then why do they leave the area by the dozens, looking for food?

    I’m afraid I don’t understand the logic behind letting the deer be killed off by coyotes (which must be pretty gruesome) rather than being killed quickly and humanely by an expert shooter.

  9. Marcia:
    I very much appreciate your thoughtful responses to these issues. Indeed passion and commitment have the ability to educate and produce new thinking. I am at this point in favor of at least the initial hunt, but believe that the territory is too limited — VF park overflow seems to make it out of the park. Killing off deer in the park will only draw more deer back into it. If the reason that the population grows is to promote hunting, then shouldn’t hunting be allowed to co-exist? Coyotes might be a solution, but I’m not at all in favor of introducing them into the mix. If some are here and they are good at controlling the population, then your natural selection model should work for them too.
    Regarding VF Park hunt plans….

    Administrators say lethal actions are necessary because deer are devouring so many plants, shrubs, and saplings that the forest cannot regenerate.

    “Our goal is to restore a natural, healthy, functioning ecosystem,” said Kristina Heister, park natural-resource manage…

    In 1985, the summer deer population was 165 to 185, according to a study by Pennsylvania State University researchers. By 1997, the population had more than quadrupled.

    From 1997 to 2007, the herd grew from 772 to 1,023, peaking at 1,398 in 2003, according to a park environmental-impact study. The 2007 total was 193 deer per 2 sq km (1 square mile), which administrators say exceeds scientific recommendations for forest regeneration.

    Already lost, Heister said, is what biologists call the forest understory, the saplings and small ground plants. If the situation continued unaltered over generations, what is now forest would become meadow

    …Park officials also note that there are, on average, 86 collisions between cars and deer in the park each year. More accidents occur on the park outskirts, and all are potentially deadly to drivers.


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