Deer in the crosshairs – again

Posted 5/2/24

The recent observation of Earth Day was a time to reflect on our connection with - and impact on -  this planet that we share.

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Deer in the crosshairs – again


The recent observation of Earth Day was a time to reflect on our connection with - and impact on -  this planet that we share with a diverse array of wildlife.  But lingering sadness in the wake of the 26th annual deer kill in Wissahickon Valley Park occupied me with feelings of dismay.  

During 10 nights by Wildlife Services, the barbaric federal program having a relentless hold over wildlife management, 103 deer were killed, according to The Guardian.  To date, 1,772 deer have been reportedly killed in the park.  It must be noted that for the first time to my knowledge, there were no expanded curfew signs posted alerting the public to the advancing threat.  Was there a legal mandate to do so?

According to Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), the park is open as a public asset to be shared by all who seek its gifts. Its diverse habitats are home to a great many species of wildlife.  Biologist E.O. Wilson once said, “The existence of all species is a gift to us.”  One species gifted to us - the white-tailed deer - is not appreciated, but considered with utter disdain. They are misunderstood, vilified and persecuted. Rants against deer are ubiquitous.  The less we know about them, the easier it is to kill them.  And when they’re labeled “rats with hooves” and “pests,” it frees humans of any guilt associated  with killing them.  

The entrenched status quo has now been normalized.  It’s time to acknowledge our failure and then pay our outstanding debt for the great harm done to these wonderful animals.  We must continue to push back against the violence.  The price of complacency is too great.

Their resilience to adapt to a human dominated world has only perpetuated their relentless and unjust persecution.  There are innumerable impacts on an ecosystem, but deer get blamed because they’re easier to control, said Charles Bolgiani, Ph.D., who was once president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania.  He commented further, “We scapegoat deer to avoid the real challenges we need to face up to.”  Nancy Lawson, author, speaker and habitat consultant admonished us to get over our uniquely human arrogance and take a broader view.

A snapshot into the ecological role of deer in their world is as follows: Deer contribute substantial nutrients, encouraging plants to grow and thrive.  Their droppings amend the soil where insects and other invertebrates multiply in the richer soil, attracting other forest creatures.  Their nitrogen-rich urine helps a multitude of species flourish, including hardwood seedlings.  One study showed that their fecal and urine deposits can have strong, positive effects on the growth of red oak, which grew less inside deer exclosures than those exposed to deer (Ecosphere).  Many viable seeds are also dispersed, including Trillium grandiflorum, according to Cornell State University’s Mark Vellend.  This wildflower grows in the Wissahickon.  Deer also keep plant producers in check, such as trees, grass, weeds and shrubs.

According to the U.S. Forest Service and Penn State University, deer are not the culprits in changing eastern forests.  Those hell-bent on snuffing out the lives of deer who dare to live in accordance with the ecological principles of their world had better take stock.  There’s a need to focus on mitigating the harmful impacts of one species, and that is the human.  Our harmful practices have been the bane of deer, and even worse have been implicated in their premature death.  Humans are the ecological disaster, not Bambi, says Friends of Animals, which works toward advancing the rights of wildlife.  The Wildlife Society once said that “managing wildlife is more about managing people.”  Deer deserve our long-overdue interest, full understanding and respect.     

Bridget W. Irons

Co-founder, Philadelphia Advocates For The Deer (PAD)