Deer have to go!!!

Exotic Deer not wanted in park!!

Exotic deer have worn out their welcome at Point Reyes National Seashore, and  the National  Park Service has decided it’s time to wipe them out.

The service released a plan Thursday to deal with the hundreds of nonnative  fallow and axis deer trampling the park’s meadows and woodlands.    The plan  includes several options, and the deer are likely to find most of them  objectionable, since the goal is their elimination.

The alternatives range from doing nothing to shooting the deer. The park  service’s preferred option involves killing most of them and  treating the  remainder with a special vaccine that would sterilize does for up to three  years. Using those methods, all the deer would be eliminated by 2017.

Fallow deer and axis deer have been a part of West Marin’s fauna since 1948,  when some were purchased from the San Francisco Zoo by a Point Reyes landowner  and released with the expectation that they would provide enhanced  hunting opportunities.

But most hopes for hunting the hefty ungulates — both species can tip the  scales at 200 pounds — were dashed when Point Reyes became national park  property in 1962. Hunting is forbidden in national parks.

For years, rifle-toting park staffers periodically culled the herds. But that  stopped about five years ago, in large part because of public discomfort with  the program.

Fallow deer, native to the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor, come in a  variety of color phases, from pure white to umber. The bucks sport huge, palmate  antlers. Axis deer, originally from India and Sri Lanka, have  spotted pelts.

Both species are attractive — and fecund, axis deer especially so. They can  breed any time of the year. Right now, about 875 fallow deer and 275 axis deer  live in the 71,068-acre park. Though more prolific, the axis deer were hit  particularly hard during the authorized culling and were slower to rebound.

These hundreds of exotic deer are bad news for the Point Reyes ecosystem in  general and native species in particular, said John  Dell’Osso, a spokesman for the park.

“They eat about a ton of forage a day,” said Dell’Osso. “That’s food that is  unavailable to our native blacktail deer and tule elk.”

Dell’Osso said fallow deer are inordinately aggressive — videos have been  taken of bucks chasing much larger tule elk away from foraging grounds.

Additionally, he said, both axis and fallow deer can carry Johne’s Disease, a  viral malady which typically causes no ill effects for the deer but can  devastate tule elk.

“We haven’t conducted a study (to determine the impact on ground-nesting  birds), but we do know we have fallow deer densities of 80 per square kilometer  in the Olema Valley,” Dell’Osso said.

He said a study in Pennsylvania concluded that whitetail deer populations of  25 animals per square kilometer (247 acres) can strip woodlands of low- lying  bushes and small trees, wiping out native ground-nesting birds. “We’d be  surprised if there wasn’t a similar impact,” he said.

The deer are also causing conniption fits among ranchers near Olema on the  park’s eastern edge by gobbling up cattle feed and destroying fences.

“They eat our hay in the winter and flatten our pastures in the spring,” said Ann  Stewart, who with her daughter, Amanda  Wisby, runs Angus cattle on both family land and about 2,500 acres leased  from the park service.

Additionally, said Stewart, large bands of young bucks congregate during the  rut and become entangled in fences.

“They tear out yards and yards of fencing,” she said. “It’s really a  major expense.”

Stewart said she has been talking with the park service for a long time about  controlling the deer. “My heart really goes out to (park staffers),” she said.  “As soon as they try to do anything on this, they’re going to have a whole bunch  of people like PETA (People  for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) after them.”

The National Park Service has been working on a control program for several  years. The alternatives are subject to a 60-day public comment period starting  Thursday. A final decision by the park service is expected by the end of  the year.

Stephanie  Boyles, a wildlife biologist with PETA, said her organization favors  nonlethal means for exotic animal control as a matter of course.

“There is now a vaccine undergoing field trials that is specifically designed  for cervids (deer),” Boyles said. “Given that it’s a public agency, we think the  National Park Service should be at the forefront of participating in these  trials. Point Reyes would be the perfect place for it.”

She said there should be no sense of urgency in eliminating the Point  Reyes herds.

“They’ve been there for decades, they didn’t ask to be there, and they’re  just making the best of their situation,” she said. “We need to approach this  with some compassion.”

Natalie  Gates, a wildlife biologist with the park service at Point Reyes, said the  agency prefers nonlethal methods for animal control wherever possible.

“We do plan to use vaccines in our removal program,” Gates said. “But given  the realities of the situation, it’s unlikely we could ever vaccinate more than  25 percent of the animals.”

It is difficult and expensive, she said, to immobilize and vaccinate even one  deer, let alone 1,000.

“Additionally, to do it right, we have to radio-collar each vaccinated animal  to ensure the vaccine works,” Gates said. “That means tracking it to see if it  gives birth, or even checking feces for high progesterone levels, which would  indicate pregnancy. If you don’t follow through, there’s no point in even  attempting it. It would be irresponsible.”

Gordon  Bennett, chairman for the Marin group of the Sierra  Club, supports the park service’s position. He said the exotic deer problem  at Point Reyes was caused by humans, and humans must take the responsibility for  solving it.

“Speaking for myself and not the club, I feel invasive species are one of the  biggest problems facing the national parks,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he studied the Point Reyes deer problem extensively a few years  ago when he was a member of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area  Citizen’s Commission.

“At that time, I realized something significant,” said Bennett. “Back then,  the service was trying to maintain a stable population of about 300 deer in the  park. But to achieve that, they culled thousands over the years.”

It’s therefore far more humane, Bennett said, to kill a few hundred animals  now so thousands won’t have to die in the future.

In any event, Dell’Osso observed, time is wasting.

“Last year, a fallow deer was killed by a car at Woodacre, 10 miles from the  park,” Dell’Osso said. “In New Zealand, fallow deer showed a rate of spread of  4.5 miles a year. They can double their population every six years. Axis deer  can double in numbers every four years. If we don’t control them now, we may  never be able to control them.”