Too many white-tailed deer at Valley Forge National Historical Park has prompted park officials to turn to sharpshooters and birth control to tamp down and maintain a manageable population. However, since park officials have not yet found an acceptable reproductive control agent, sharpshooters will be relied upon the next four years to reduce herd numbers in the park.
White-tailed deer are awash in the East. They're highly reproductive, have few natural predators with the eradication of wolves and mountain lions, and seemingly always hungry. In urbanized areas, they also create hazards for motorists, as they're likely to dart out across roads. At Valley Forge, officials pointed to the heavy browsing deer are inflicting on the park's vegetation, as well as the collisions with vehicles, in justifying their decision.
Here's a key section of the park's announcement:
The selected alternative continues current park deer management actions including vegetation and deer population monitoring, maintenance of small fenced areas, roadkill removal, public education, coordination with the PGC, and CWD monitoring and response. In addition, the selected alternative incorporates lethal and nonlethal actions to quickly reduce and then maintain the deer population at a certain level in the park that protects native plant communities and promotes forest regeneration and habitat. Initially, the selected alternative will use lethal reduction via sharpshooting and capture/euthanasia to quickly reduce the deer population and achieve the initial deer density goal. When an acceptable reproductive control agent becomes available maintenance of population levels will be conducted via reproductive control. Until an acceptable and effective reproductive control agent becomes available, however, population maintenance will be conducted using lethal methods. The initial target deer density is 31 to 35 deer per square mile (165-185 individuals park-wide). The target number would be adjusted based on the success of forest regeneration (threshold of 8,079 tree seedlings per acre).
With an estimated deer population of some 1,200 animals currently within the park's borders, bringing the herd size down to just 165-185 animals won't be done overnight. Park officials currently envision four years of sharpshooting maneuvers between November and March to lower the population. As long as no cases of Chronic Wasting Disease are found within 60 miles of the park, venison from the culling operations will be donated to food banks, according to a park release.
Now, the Park Service was approached by a group that offered to control deer at Valley Forge without resorting to lethal means, but that offer was declined because it wouldn't have lowered the herd numbers as quickly as park officials thought they needed to be.
On August 20, 2009, the NPS met with a representative of Protection, Needs, and Care of Animals (PNC, Inc.). During this meeting, PNC, Inc. made an offer of assistance with implementation of non-lethal deer management actions. The offer entailed partial funding for the installation of a small amount of fencing in forested areas of the park, funding for a limited number of doses of a chemical reproductive control agent, and funding for three individuals to assist with delivery of the agent. All elements of this offer were conditional upon eliminating lethal removal as a deer management tool. This offer represents limited implementation of actions described under Alternative B (Combined Nonlethal Actions) in the Final plan/EIS on pages 2-24 to 2-35. The NPS did not select this alternative for implementation because it would only allow the NPS to partially achieve the objectives of the plan (see Table 7 on pages 2-69 to 2-71 in the Final plan/EIS). Additionally, Alternative B would result in long-term, major adverse impacts to park resources, and public safety (see Chapter 4, Environmental Consequences in the Final plan/EIS). Adverse impacts result primarily from the fact that the rate of population decline using only reproductive control would be very gradual.
As described in the Final plan/EIS, the use of reproductive controls alone would take 18-19 years to achieve the deer density goal (see pages 2-24, 2-32, 4-22, 4-33, and 4-45 of the Final plan/EIS). Therefore, the abundance and diversity of plant communities would continue to decline in areas outside rotational fences, or 85-90% of the forested area park. No forest regeneration would occur outside fencing, and once fencing was rotated these revegetated areas would again be exposed to heavy deer browsing and resulting removal of the forest understory. Additionally, the amount and quality of wildlife habitat in the park would continue to decline, archeological resources outside of fenced areas would continue to erode due to loss of plant cover and trampling by deer, and the incidence of deer-vehicle collisions would remain high. Although the NPS appreciates the offer made by PNC, Inc. it was declined because of the unavoidable adverse effects of Alternative B described above.
You can find a wealth of information on the deer culling decision at this site: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/documentsList.cfm?parkId=284&projectId=16911