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January, 2007


Deer in Park's Gunsight
by Richard Kirschman/Dogtown

The National Park Service (NPS) has now completed the paperwork, the bureaucracy has its ducks in a row, so the shooting of the Fallow and Axis Deer in the Point Reyes National Seashore can begin. All of the public's pleas to manage the size of these deer herds rather than exterminate them have been rebuffed. Soon the sounds of gunfire will echo through our Park. The voices of "native only purity" have, at least for the moment, won the day. The common sense principle to not introduce animals and plants into other ecosystems has been perverted into a rigid bureaucratic ideology.
Such ideologues also want to exterminate the wild mustangs and burros from our south west - animals that have been here since before we were a nation. They also want to exterminate our wild turkeys because they are not native to this part of California. And the famous Parrots of Telegraph Hill are in their sights because they too are not native and occasionally fly into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. "Non natives" are all around us, and part of our environment. Not counting the thousands of cows, horses, automobiles, bicycles, and kayaks, or the 3 million annual human visitors, or the park rangers themselves, about 40% of the life forms in the Point Reyes National Seashore are already "non-native." In truth of course, it's too late for a return to some pre-columbian Garden of Eden. Like honey bees, the exotic deer may not be native, but they are with us and here to stay.

In support of their extermination plans the NPS offers "concerns about environmental damage." They argue that the deer "may" damage the environment or hurt other species. But they offer no evidence that, after being part of this ecosystem for over a half century, these deer have actually done any harm to anything. Not to the native deer, not to the salmon, not to the quail, not to anyone, or aside from a few fences, anything. All the Park has to offer is fear of potential damage. Hardly enough to justify something as extreme as complete extermination.

When I asked to see some actual damage done by the Fallow Deer with my own eyes, the Park couldn't produce. Signs of this year's mating clashes may still be visible, but last year's rutting grounds have long since restored themselves. No permanent damage. Bad argument.

And when I tried to track down the claim that the native black tail deer populations were being disadvantaged I could find no one in the Park Service who knew for sure even how many native deer there are, or how many there used to be. No way to back up any claims of harm. Another bum argument. (Ask anyone with a garden about the "declining" native deer populations Marin County.)

As to the claim that these deer will adversely effect specific species like the coho salmon or the Swainson's thrush, I've inquired around and the salmon people seem quite proud of how the coho are making a come-back in West Marin streams, and the Swainson's thrush expert tells me that the bird is "doing quite well and its population stable." Another argument that doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

And all this at a time when the exotic deer are at record population levels and have been a part of the park's eco-system for over 50 years!

And please consider this about the practicality of extermination, of getting rid of them all. The Vedanta Society, whose private lands lie in the very center of the park, and are home to dozens, perhaps hundreds of Fallow deer, will not permit shooting on their almost 2,000 acres of property. And what about the thousands of acres of no-hunting-allowed Water District and state park lands that also border the park. Deer are not stupid. When hunted they will seek and find refuge on these adjoining lands. So even the very idea of complete eradication makes no sense.

In truth this is really about money. Managing the deer is an ongoing expense and a consumer of manpower. Getting rid of the deer once and for all is a kind of "final solution to the deer problem." A creepy way of looking at things to many of us. Particularly for those who know of the vigor with which the Nazis pursued not only their human enemies but also the plants and animals they viewed as "non aryan."

So what can one do about this, now that this round of petitions, signs, banners, and bumper stickers seem to have run their course?

I for one am resigning from organizations that support extermination rather than management. I am leaving such otherwise worthwhile organizations as the Sierra Club, the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, and the Audubon Canyon Ranch. None of these organizations have asked their members about how they feel regarding the deer. In every case decisions to support extermination have been taken by paid staff on their own. If readers want to "do something" I suggest they find out where organizations they belong to stand on this issue, and then register their displeasure by withholding financial support for a year or so and letting the organization know why. Nothing gets attention quicker than threats to the pocketbook!

There are also plans in the works for legal action, and a "sense of the people" county-wide ballot initiative to document the popular opposition to the National Park Service's ill conceived plans.

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