Weavers Way member Mary Ann Baron, co-founder of Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer, is working with us at Concern for Animals/Respect for the Environment, a nonprofit based in Chester County, to help solve what Philadelphians and suburbanites call The Deer Problem.
PAD and CARE think it’s more of a human problem.
We ask the question that no one wants to ask but, following biological science, everybody should:
Do we really have too many deer in the Delaware Valley — or too few carnivores?
Shooting Deer: The Vicious Cycle
The government deer-shooting plan at Valley Forge National Historical Park was slated to continue for four winters when it started in 2010. It has never ended. The deer of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park have been shot at for even longer — since 1999.
More than 2,500 deer have been killed in Fairmount Park culls since 1999, when deer populations were estimated at 159 in the Wissahickon Valley and 362 at Pennypack Park, the two high-deer regions of the city park system.
How do shooters keep finding so many deer to kill? Deer rebound. As deer-removal contracts continue, the deer simply reproduce and fill the gaps.
And that’s why, within just a few years of shooting, both Valley Forge and Fairmount Park shot and killed more deer than they had when they started.
Back to Nature
Our area is blessed with indigenous carnivores and omnivores. Bobcats do kill weakened or even healthy deer, especially in winter. And coyotes are well known to biologists as capable deer predators.
But we kill coyotes (which in Pennsylvania are legal to shoot virtually 24/7, year-round) and deer in droves, the latter in sponsored “management” hunts.
Perhaps we could do neither?
We might free up resources currently invested in shooting — for eaxmaple, Valley Forge spends $97,000 to $173,000 annually, according to its “White Tail Deer Management” plan — to educate the population about the detriments inherent in coyote trapping and killing.
Learning from Other Cities and Suburbs
We’re learning that wonderful things happen to local and regional ecosystems when predators are respected.
A study run by a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station showed South Carolina deer populations dropping after a rise in coyote populations. Pasadena, CA, also coexists with coyotes, who have been witnessed taking deer. Coyote coexistence projects have proved beneficial in New York, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco.
We and coyotes can coexist if we don’t take away coyotes’ natural fear of people. To prevent coyotes from getting too comfortable with us, never feed them, and avoid indirect feeding too. (Bird feeders are an issue, as coyotes are attracted to the concentration of birds, squirrels and rodents around them.) Helpfully, coyotes living near cities are most active at night.
A New Project for Philadelphia and Its Suburbs
We believe people need to recover respect for animals and their habitats around us. Philadelphia aspires to be the greenest city, and this must involve appreciating nature’s capacity to balance itself. And now more than ever we need safe, gun-free open space for our children to grow up with.
We’ve started a collaboration called the Greater Philadelphia Coyote Coexistence Initiative. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lee Hall is president of Concern for Animals/Respect for the Environment (CARE).