Valley Forge has one of the highest white-tailed deer populations in the country, 241 per square mile. Next month the Parks Service will pay sharpshooters to kill off 86% of the deer over four years. For the last several years the Parks Service has dismissed the other options.
They decided not to go for just PZP contraceptive dart injections, even though the country’s biggest expert lives right nearby and has offered to help. They do plan on using it after they kill of most of the deer to keep the population down. First they have to use sharpshooters at night, preferably from platforms (to avoid hitting people). If that doesn’t work, they’ll put up bait stations of 20-100 pounds of apples, hay or other food to catch the deer. Then, they’ll kill the deer either by shooting them or with “a combination of penetrating captive bolt gun and sodium chloride.”
They’ve also turned down the cheapest option: letting coyotes do the work. Coyotes don’t bring populations down because they don’t eat adults (at least in the midwest), says research from Stanley Gehrt, the biologist who did a ground-breaking study on coyotes in ground-breaking study on coyotes in Cook County, IL. They can, however, keep growth in check because they eat fawns–between 20% and 80%. And coyotes have killed adult deer out east. They may even have a better shot at these particular deer, which are notably smaller because of overpopulation.
The Parks Service has said coyotes alone wouldn’t work. Would PZP and coyotes work together to bring the population down through attrition? We’ll never know.
Natural predators can be a lot more effective than people think. Think of Yellowstone and the wolves: a decade after they were introduced, they cut the Yellowstone elk population in half–after five years of almost no impact. Still, some have objected to the coyote plan saying they don’t want coyotes in the park. The conversation about whether to allow coyotes into the park is silly. Coyotes are part of the current American urban and suburban ecosystem. The ones on the east coast are really coywolves–coyote-wolf hybrids that moved in to fill the niche when we killed off the wolves. There are going to be coyotes in Valley Forge whether they are encouraged or not. And they’re going to eat fawns whether we like it or not.
Read about the Deer Impacts Blog
Where to Go to See Deer–in Unusual Settings, Numbers or Forms
Where to See Wolves and Coyotes