In suburban forest of Valley Forge, balancing coyotes vs. deer

By Jeff Gammage
Sunday, November 7, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - For months they've run on the periphery of the debate over the plan to shoot deer at Valley Forge National Historical Park:


A small number have taken residence inside the park, among the "urban coyotes" that dwell in places from New York to Chicago to Beverly Hills, Calif.

Now, animal rights advocates are arguing that the number of coyotes in Valley Forge should be encouraged to grow, as a way to provide a predatory check on the deer and eliminate any cause for gunfire.

"It would serve as a natural form of population control," said Matthew McLaughlin, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Animals.

Park officials say it wouldn't work - certainly not fast enough to help a forest that's being devoured by deer. This month, park managers intend to proceed with a plan to eliminate 86 percent of the deer over the next four years.

To some people, the idea of using coyotes to reduce the herd seems far-fetched, if not risky, given how many people jog and hike in the park.

If you and your jogging partner should be approached by a coyote, is it possible to outrun the beast?

The answer, as one joke has it: You don't need to outrun the coyote. You only have to outrun your jogging partner.

In fact, coyotes tend to be timid around people, and attacks are extremely rare. And plainly the fate of the deer is no laughing matter, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding the park plan for "lethal reduction." Officials intend to cull the herd from an estimated 1,277 to between 165 and 185.

Sharpshooters are to kill 500 deer this winter, 500 the next, and between 250 and 300 in each of the third and fourth years. Animal rights activists say the killings are unnecessary and will be dangerous to people who live or travel near the park.

A natural remedy

No one has suggested bringing more coyotes into Valley Forge.

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