May 27, 2010

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New Hill activist group aims to stop deer slaughter

Mary Ann Baron, whose Chestnut Hill home borders the Wissahickon Park, calls her friend Bridget Irons every year when the deer kill in the Wissahickon is about to begin. “We just can’t believe this is still  going on,” she said. Although the public was initially told that the “cull” would be a one-time-only event, it has continued from 2001 to  the present, with no signs of stopping.

Hoping to become an advocate for the deer, Mary Ann applied for a  seat on the new Parks and Recreation Board but was not accepted. She also wrote a letter decrying the killing to Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis, who replied, “While I understand  your concern for the deer, you must understand the difficult task we  have trying to preserve the natural environment for future  generations. We believe our current control methods provide the best opportunity for successfully managing the herd.”

“The deer are being blamed for disturbing the park biosphere, when people are by far more impactful,” insists Mary Ann. “It’s the humans who are out of control, not the deer.”

Ms. Baron, who is a past president of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Counselors Association, thinks that turning a blind eye to the killing in our park is itself a kind of mental health issue. “A lot of folks drive green cars and live in green houses, yet think nothing about the inhumane treatment of wildlife right in their own back yard. Hunters have come to my door, asking if I ‘needed help’ with the deer. I told them ‘no.’”

Bridget Irons of Chestnut Hill has spent years opposing the hunt and gathering relevant information. “I have heard the awful cries of deer being shot in the park. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, hearing them cry out in distress. It still haunts me.” She  agrees with Mary Ann that the hunt should be stopped, and replaced by humane alternatives. To that end, the two women have joined forces.

When they noticed that a deer hunt in Valley Forge Park had been at  least temporarily stopped by the group “Friends of Animals” (FoA),  they contacted Lee Hall, FoA’s VP of Legal Affairs, and the result is a cooperative venture called Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer  (PAD). They will be having their first public meeting at the Chestnut  Hill Library on Wednesday, June 2. According to Mary Ann, “Volunteers are needed to write, research,  recruit, do political and membership outreach, and publicize our ideas and motives. We are seeking folks to help organize and run PAD as a collaborative effort. It will be a cooperative venture committed to the long-term ecological health of Philadelphia parks, and respect for indigenous animals.”

The now-yearly slaughter began when The Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), on the heels of a $60,000 study, declared “Damage to the environment and the future health of the forest” to be the primary reasons for needing to reduce the herd, with “car accidents, Lyme  disease and destruction of gardens” as other considerations.

The Fairmount Park Commission decided to follow the recommendations of the FOW. The city has thus far paid the USDA — the country’s largest contract killer — over $200,000 for carrying out the slaughter, not counting the costs of police protection, carcass removal, rendering, distribution and other related services by city workers.  Keep in mind that while they are spending our tax dollars to murder deer, the Mayor and city council have just raised our real estate taxes 10 percent, claiming that there is a budget crisis.

Opponents of the hunt believe that all of the aforementioned problems can be solved by non-lethal means. Irons, who is also an award-winning gardener, says there are many plants that are deer-resistant and that by taking reasonable precautions, she has so far avoided contracting Lyme disease.

Ms. Hall added, “There are lots of dangers in nature — bee stings,  mosquitoes, poison ivy — we deal with them. There will always be  risks in life, but we often willingly take those risks rather than take the greater risk of compromising our principles. If we have deer in our city gardens, we should consider ourselves lucky.

“Our area could become a leader in supporting biodiversity through  humane methods rather than dominating wildlife into submission. We need to be asking bigger questions than just ‘What’s happening to my azaleas?’ So many of us shut the door and pretend that violence is not happening in our world and our neighborhood. We should see parks as a way to connect with nature rather than merely as a commodity. We need to respect the animals’ way of living rather than impose our own ideas of how they should live.”

Bridget added, “We’ve destroyed their families and their social order. What the city is funding is not a cull; a cull is a selective process. They just go in and gun down whomever they find without regard to age, sex, whatever. It’s evolution in reverse. If we could just get people to understand deer behavior — how they live — maybe folks would be more tolerant and patient.”And patience is a key, according to Hall, who said, “The impatience of people in the community pressures the government to act harshly to eliminate the deer. Humane, lasting solutions, on the other hand, can take time.”

The PAD meeting at the library on June 2 will begin at 7 p.m.  Anyone interesting in helping or supporting this new group or  learning about humane alternatives is invited to attend. 

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