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In suburban forest of Valley Forge, balancing coyotes vs. deer
Instead, the Pennsylvania chapter of Friends of Animals has begun a campaign called the Coyote Coexistence Initiative, an outgrowth of a lawsuit the group filed last year to try to stop the deer shoots. That suit, still active, helped delay the first kill for a year.
One of the Friends' arguments is that park officials did not fully consider the role of natural predators - specifically coyotes - in maintaining a stable deer population. The initiative seeks to promote respect for coyotes as important players in the environment and to reduce what has been a dramatic increase in the number of coyotes killed in Pennsylvania.
Friends leaders say the park doesn't exist in isolation - it must be evaluated as part of the larger biosystem.
If the number of coyotes was allowed to increase statewide, it would probably also increase inside the park, helping to manage the size of the deer herd, they said.
"We can't look at the coyotes in a five-mile park as in a vacuum," said Lee Hall, vice president of legal affairs for the Friends.
She acknowledged it would take time for coyotes to affect the deer population but asked, "What's the emergency this year?" The group plans to seek a court injunction to stop next month's shoot.
Park officials say, however, that time is slipping away. Because of the herd's appetite, the forest has not generated new growth since 1995, and "we simply cannot withstand another 20 years of that," said Kristina Heister, the park spokesperson and natural-resource manager.
Officials evaluated the possibility of using coyotes to reduce the herd, she said, but found it would require large numbers - well beyond the few coyotes sometimes glimpsed or photographed.
"There's no scientific evidence to suggest that at the population density [of deer] that we have, that the reintroduction of predators would be effective," she said.
Other opinions were more direct.
"It's a laughable idea," said Bruce Davis, who lives at the edge of the park in Tredyffrin Township. "We have pets and small children in that neighborhood. And plenty of adults who would be frightened by coyotes. . . . Even if they're only interested in the deer, there's 10 deer in my yard every night."
Mark O'Neill of nearby Bryn Mawr, who regularly visits the park and deplores the damage done by deer, wondered if coyotes would even bother with deer, given the smorgasbord of nearby household pets. "Fifi the dog and Fluffy the cat are much easier to eat," he said.