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Friends of Animals v. U.S. National Parks Mike Caldwell

October 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goldberg, J.


The Valley Forge National Historical Park is being overrun by white-tailed deer. Within the protected confines of this historic park, the overpopulated white-tailed deer have flourished and currently threaten the forested areas and archaeological structures in the park. These facts are undisputed.

Respondents in this matter, the National Park Service (hereinafter "NPS"), have carefully evaluated potential solutions to this problem and determined that a culling of the deer population over the span of four years is necessary to achieve the desired population density and prevent further damage to the park. Petitioners, two animal rights groups,*fn1 seek to enjoin the NPS from culling the deer and allege that the NPS has not complied with all statutory obligations and considered other alternatives, which include fencing and introducing coyotes as a "natural" means of reducing the deer population.

Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Respondents' motion will be granted and Petitioners' motion will be denied.


The Valley Forge National Historical Park's mission is to "preserve and commemorate . . . the area associated with heroic suffering, hardship, and determination and resolve of General George Washington's Continental Army during the winter of 1777-78." 16 U.S.C. § 410aa. The park receives over one million visitors per year who come not only to honor its historical significance where thousands suffered, but also to appreciate the park's open spaces, forests, and wildlife.

The park comprises five and a half square miles and lies eighteen miles northwest of Philadelphia. Its boundaries abut part of the Schuylkill River, Interstate 76, and various residential and commercial areas. (Administrative Record (hereinafter "AR"), 000028, 000053-54.)

Given the protective nature of life within the park, between 1983 and 2009, the deer population has grown exponentially from 31 to 35 deer per square mile to 241 deer per square mile. As noted above, the overabundance of this herbivore has decimated the forested areas of the park and optimal forest regeneration cannot occur unless the population returns to 1983 numbers. The current population numbers also threaten historical and archeological structures within the park. (AR, 000001.)

A. The NPS Plan

The NPS engaged in a three-year study during which various plans for managing the park's deer population were considered and made available for public comment. On August 28, 2009, the NPS issued its "Record of Decision: White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement - Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania." The lawsuit currently before the Court commenced with the filing of a complaint on November 12, 2009. While the parties initially agreed to stay the culling, the NPS currently intends to go forward with its culling plan in November of 2010. (Resps.' Memo., pp. 4-5.)

The purpose of the NPS plan is "to develop a white-tailed deer management strategy that supports long-term protection, preservation, and restoration of native vegetation and other natural and cultural resources while maintaining a deer population . . . ." (AR, 000001.) The plan is also designed to respond to chronic wasting disease in the park.*fn2 The objectives of the plan are, inter alia, to promote natural restoration of native vegetation, maintain a white-tailed deer population which allows for regeneration of native plant life, protect other native wildlife species, reduce the probability of CWD, and protect the integrity of the cultural landscape and archeological resources. The plan considered four alternatives: (A) No-action, (B) Combined Nonlethal Actions, (C) Combined Lethal Actions, and (D) Combined Lethal and Nonlethal Actions. The plan selected by the NPS is Alternative D. (AR, 000001-02, 000012.)

B. The Alternatives Considered

Alternative A called for continued deer population and vegetation monitoring as well as small, fenced areas to protect selected vegetation. This alternative was rejected because it failed to meet the objectives of the plan, namely - it did not provide for a means to reduce the deer population or curb its growth. (AR, 000012, 000014.)

Alternative B called for rotational fencing of selected forest areas in addition to all of the actions provided for in Alternative A. The fencing would cover ten acres at a time and would be rotated to cover a total of forty acres as each ten acre plot reached satisfactory forest regeneration levels. The fencing would be coupled with a chemical reproductive control agent when such an agent becomes available.*fn3 This alternative was rejected because it would cover only 10-15% of the forested area of the park over the life of the plan. The fencing also did not fit within the aesthetically pleasing nature of the historic park and would limit public access. (AR, 000012, 000014-15.)

Alternative C would include all of the provisions in Alternative A plus an immediate reduction in the deer population through sharpshooting, and capture and euthanasia. While this alternative had many similarities to the plan selected by the NPS, it was rejected because it required longer periods of park closure to visitors due to the planned shooting period. (AR, 000012, 000015.)

Alternative D provides for an immediate reduction of deer, to continue over a four-year period, by sharpshooting and in some instances, capture and euthanasia. The shorter time period for park closures and the addition of chemical birth control, when it becomes available, distinguishes this alternative from Alternative C. The selected alternative provides for adaptive management, which is "a systematic approach for dealing with uncertainty inherent in natural systems in order to improve resource management by learning from management outcomes." This management system will ...

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