Today on behalf of several DC residents we submitted a new request to the National Park Service to halt all further killing of white-tailed deer in Rock Creek Park until the agency conducts supplemental review of the program under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Petition was based on recent data we obtained for our clients under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that revealed that the Park Service’s most recent vegetation study in Rock Creek Park does not support the basis for its lethal control program—i.e., that the deer are interfering with native forest regeneration. Although the U.S. Geological Survey initially withheld both the draft and final versions of this Report from our clients in its entirety under Exemption 5 of FOIA, requiring us to file a FOIA lawsuit, after we filed our opening brief in opposition to the government’s motion for summary judgment, the agency relented and provided us with both versions of the Report. Contrary to what the Park Service has told the public—i.e., that the deer must be killed to protect the native vegetation in the Park—the Final USGS Report concluded that there were no “significant differences” in the amount of native vegetation between the vegetation plots in the park that were fenced (thereby excluding the deer) and unfenced. Based on the conclusions from this Report, as well as the fact that the deer population is actually increasing in the Park, despite the annual slaughter of deer—suggesting that the lethal program is not only ineffective in reducing the deer population, but also causing a rebounding effect—and previous conclusions by Dr. Oswald Schmitz, Director of Yale University’s Institute for Biospheric Studies, that “there is no evidence that deer are impairing forest regeneration in Rock Creek Park,” we have requested supplemental NEPA review of this project. The Park Service began killing this wildlife in 2013—the first time any wildlife has been allowed to be killed there since Rock Creek Park was established in 1890. When the Park Service made its decision to kill the deer it told the public that forest regeneration would be “the primary measure of the plan’s success.” Therefore, our request explains, because forest regeneration has not been affected at all by the exclusion of deer, this program needs to be re-evaluated. A copy of the letter requesting supplemental NEPA review can be found here.
Photo courtesy of Rock Creek Park Deer