(CN) – Sharpshooters can continue efforts to reduce a booming deer population in Valley Forge National Historical Park, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
In 1983, there were fewer than 35 deer per square mile in the park, located about 18 miles northwest of Philadelphia. By 2009, that number has risen to 241 deer per square mile, and their eating habits had decimated local vegetation. To maintain natural forest regeneration, the National Park Service estimated reducing deer density to about 10 to 40 deer per square mile.
It recommended accomplishing this reduction by letting sharpshooters cull the deer population.
Two organizations – Friends of Animals and Compassion for Animals, Respect for the Environment – challenged this action under the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
A federal judge found no error, and the Philadelphia-based federal appeals court affirmed that decision on Monday.
The three-judge appellate panel rejected the activists’ claims that the National Park Service should have increased the coyote population to naturally reduce deer numbers.
The judges also rejected the groups’ claim that the government proffered “straw men” alternatives that it had no intention of backing because it planned all along to “shoot the deer.”
In reality, the National Park Service had been considering how to control the deer population since 2006, and it ultimately concluded that nonlethal methods would prove ineffective, according to the unsigned opinion.
The National Park Service also “held several public meetings on its deer management plan and received thousands of comments, released the final EIS [environmental impact statement] after a three-year process of internal review and public comment,” the 13-page decision states.
Judges Maryanne Barry, Thomas Ambro and Robert Cowen also declined to let the activists supplement the record with three studies addressing coyote hunting habits and tendencies in human interactions.
But these studies either duplicate the government’s findings or are “irrelevant because the EIS focuses on the failure of coyotes to control the deer population, not on issues surrounding human-coyote interactions,” according to the ruling.
“Because the record discloses the factors considered by the NPS in rejecting coyote predation, and because FOA’s proposed record additions do not conflict with those factors, there is no reason to supplement the administrative record,” the judges said.