Judge Dismisses Challenge to Valley Forge Deer Hunt

deerUpdate October 29, 2010: U.S. District Court Judge Mitchell Goldberg has dismissed claims by two non-profits, Friends of Animals and Compassion for Animals, Respect for the Environment, that challenged the National Park Service Plan to allow a canned hunt of white tail deer in Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania. 

The judge described what will happen to the deer:

"The specifics of [the plan] call for the use of sharpshooters at night, stationed at elevated positions with silencers and night vision equipment. The deer will be attracted to safe removal locations by the use of bait stations. These measures will be undertaken to create the safest culling environment while being the least disturbing to park visitors and neighbors.

"While capture and euthanasia will be used in situations where sharpshooting is not safe, this scenario occurs in approximately less than 1% of the deer culled.

"Does will be targeted over bucks to more efficiently reduce the herd size by limiting its future reproductive capacity. In addition to the culling, when an acceptable chemical reproductive agent becomes available, the alternative includes provisions to implement this part of the plan. …

"Finally, the selected plan includes provisions for butchering and donating the venison of all suitable culled animals to food banks."

The judge said the plan will help control chronic wasting disease, a contagious disease, but which has not been seen in deer in Pennsylvania.

The plaintiffs claimed the NPS plan violates the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq., (NEPA), which requires an agency to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement for such an action and take a "hard look" at a range of reasonable alternatives. The judge found the NPS’ rejection of fencing alternatives or introduction of coyotes as a natural predator, was not arbitrary or capricious. The judge found the townships surrounding the park had been consulted and were in agreement with the plan.

Plaintiffs also brought a claim that the deer hunt would violate the National Park Service Organic Act, 16 U.S.C § 1, et seq., which mandates to "conserve.. . . the wild life," in national parks. Plaintiffs said "natural management, not culling by sharpshooters, is the only plan consistent with the Organic Act." 

The judge, however, found the Secretary of the Interior has a "clear mandate under the Organic Act to provide for the destruction of animals that may be a detriment to the park. 16 U.S.C § 3. Because the NPS has clearly identified overgrazing by the herd as the cause of insufficient forest generation, which is a detriment to the scenery and natural and historic objects, the exception to preserving all wildlife under the Organic Act has clearly been invoked here." The judge said that the plaintiffs "have not identified how this finding of a detriment and the NPS’s plan to remedy it is arbitrary or capricious under the Organic Act."

The deer hunt is set to begin in November, 2010. For more on the NPS’ deer management plan and environmental impact statement, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier report below.  

Original report October 5, 2009: On October 1, 2009 the National Park Service’s approved the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Final White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (Final plan/EIS) at Valley Forge National Historical Park.

This means they plan to begin what is nothing more than a deer cull, a canned hunt of deer in the Park.

Park officials will begin an effort to kill off the herd by as much as 86%. The population is estimated to be 1,277 and officials want only 165-185 deer in the Park. They plan to shoot large numbers of deer each year for at least 3 years. Some deer will be trapped or captured using tranquilizer darts and then killed, probably with a captive bolt gun.  (Think horse slaughter or No Country for Old Men)

After these initial mass culls, park managers will use contraceptives and more shooting to maintain the herd population.  

This program will cost the government up to nearly $3 million.

Deer will be lured with food to certain areas where federal employees or contractors will be waiting with high-powered, silencer-equipped rifles, to kill them.  This hunting will be done generally at night.

It won’t take more than one massacre for the deer to understand the Park is no longer safe for them. The Park population has increased because of the dramatic loss of deer habitat from development around the Park.

Whether it’s wild horses and burros, feral cats or deer, humane measures seem beyond the federal government.

Indeed, a humane alternative was proposed by Dr. Patricia Cohn, a philosophy professor. She has studied this issue and though not convinced there are too many deer, she has offered $125,000 to pay for 1,000 doses of porcine zona pellucid, PZP, an immunocontraceptive, which is already used by the federal government on wild mares. PZP has also been used successfully to reduce deer herds at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland and at Fire Island National Seashore.  Dr. Cohn’s contribution would pay for training three people to fire dart guns with the PZP at female deer. The darts would also mark the deer as having been dosed with PZP.

Dr. Cohn would then provide through her organization, Pity Not Cruelty, money for fencing areas where deer eat, according to Park officials, too much of the ground level vegetation and saplings.

Park managers say more than 1,000 doses of PZP is needed and larger areas than Dr. Cohn has said suggested, must be fenced. Even so, isn’t this far more humane and cheaper than the Park’s cruel cull that will cost millions?

Park officials seem oblivious that culling the deer simply won’t work to reduce numbers. As in communities that kill feral cats instead of neutering them and returning them to their colonies, this canned hunt or deer cull will simply result in more deer. The herd will work to survive, and the result will be females breeding at younger ages and giving birth to more multiples.   


Tell these officials you oppose the deer culls and urge them to use humane alternatives that do not involve killing deer!

Email the Valley Forge National Historical Park

Contact Valley Forge National Historical Park Superintendent Michael Caldwell by fax (610) 783-1038 or phone (610) 783-1037 or write him at 1400 North Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, PA 19406

Contact Dennis Reidenbach, Regional Director
National Park Service
U.S. Custom House
200 Chestnut Street, Fifth Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 597-7013

Contact the new Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis
National Park Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
(202) 208-3818
Contact Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Dept. of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
(202) 208-3100