Letter: War on deer

Posted 1/19/23

Wissahickon Valley Park has reached a dark time in its storied history.  This winter marks 25 years of the unjust war on white-tailed deer, the state animal of Pennsylvania.

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Letter: War on deer


Wissahickon Valley Park has reached a dark time in its storied history.  This winter marks 25 years of the unjust war on white-tailed deer, the state animal of Pennsylvania. To date, 1,593 deer have been reported killed with no end in sight.  This annual ugly and violent home invasion has robbed these innocents of an inherent right to live according to their biological nature.  It’s holding deer accountable for who they are.  

As with so many stories of injustice, they begin with a lie. Not only have deer suffered, but the truth has as well. The science which reveals an inconvenient truth has been ignored.  Ongoing and repeated attempts to justify the park’s deer policy cannot be supported, verified or withstand scientific scrutiny.

Where is the evidence to show that deer are adversely impacting wildlife diversity?  Functional Ecology explains how deer hold ecological relationships with other animals that benefit the living community. Dr. Tom Eveland set the record straight during his presentation here on June 15, 1998, by saying that the absence of predators does not increase deer numbers.  Both Time magazine and the Smithsonian have concluded that they represent a significant vector of seed dispersal for hundreds of native plant species across the North American landscape. And on the subject of motor vehicle traffic crashes, they’ve been deemed “a crisis on America’s roadways…”  Michael Brooks of the Center for Auto Safety said, “The major component of rising fatalities is very behavioral…” Nowhere are deer mentioned as a contributing factor in causing injuries and fatalities.

Lastly, according to Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), the main stressor on the ecology of the Wissahickon Valley is the human. In 2022, the Valley saw over 2 million visitors.  Over 100 recent studies have come out on the negative impacts on our forested and wilderness areas by high levels of visitation. Not only can hordes of visitors impact the behavior of local wildlife, but noise generated by those same visitors can even affect plant life by driving away pollinators. On the other hand, deer give park visitors aesthetic pleasure.

The purpose of the deer study, begun in 1994, was to look at the negative impacts of deer.  The final 1996 report on the study was never peer reviewed by an objective deer ecologist/biologist without conflict of interest. It’s a fundamental scientific principle that all such reports be evaluated with the utmost skepticism. Peer review provides credibility.  Scientific integrity must be the bedrock of sound deer policy. In this case, science lost its rightful place.  

Interestingly, the U.S. Forest Service came out in 2020 saying, “Maybe deer aren’t the forest killers we thought they were.” Marc Abrams’ (Penn State University) research has concluded that deer are not the culprits in changing eastern forests. Thankfully, more research promises to get Bambi off the proverbial hook.

Singer, songwriter John Feldman said, “Animals should be respected as citizens of this earth – have the right to their own freedom, their own families and their own life.”  Regarding animals, we are a culture rooted in silence. More good people need to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless.

The history of violence against deer is a profoundly sad time about who we are as a species.

Bridget W. Irons

Chestnut Hill

Co-founder, Philadelphia Advocates For The Deer