Deer Cull Rescheduled, Waiting for Permit

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

A deer cull in Crum Woods, originally scheduled for December 2008, might occur this winter if the Pennsylvania Game Commission approves the College’s application for a permit. If the permit is awarded, the College will hire trained hunters as part of an ongoing attempt to maintain the deer population in the Crum.

“We think that we have things worked out and just very recently I sent in the application for the permit to the Game Commission,” said Jeff Jabco, Co-Chair of the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee and Director of Grounds at the college. “So, it’s really up to them.”

The College first applied for a permit to conduct a cull in 2008 after the Stewardship Committee identified the deer population as a potential risk to the Crum ecosystem. In April 2008, the College approved the recommendation and the permit application was sent to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. According to Jabco, the cull was not carried out because “we didn’t hear back from the Game Commission until too late in the winter to allow us to do [the cull] for the schedule we wanted.”

Since last year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations have changed and, according to an April 2009 statement from the Stewardship Committee, “The Commission’s new rules and regulations require all private landholders and municipalities to allow hunting in conjunction with any cull.”

“The material that we got back from the Game Commission said that they would approve our permit but we also had to open the property for hunting,” Jabco said. “It added another aspect to the whole plan for the deer cull.”

Safety during the cull has been a main concern of both the College and surrounding community. To ameliorate concern, the College would hire an organized group of hunters to conduct the cull. “There are numerous ones that exist that do this on private properties and public properties,” Jabco said, describing the benefit of hiring trained hunters.

Allegra Black ’11, who has performed research regarding the effects of the deer population, also commented on the updated rules. “We have to allow recreational hunters to perform the cull … but it can’t just be any recreational hunter,” Black said. “You could say it’s going to be invitation only … It’s not like hunters can just walk in the woods and go hunting.”

Because of the recent changes in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s regulations, the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee has expanded efforts to inform the residents of both Swarthmore Borough and Nether Providence Township on the cull.

“We’ve tried to involve the community and listen to all of their concerns,” Jabco said, adding that he would like “to let them know about the studies we’ve done.”

According to the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee website , the studies include observations taken by two commissioned groups, National Lands Trust and Continental Conservation, along with “research done by Natural Resource Consultants Inc. and an aerial infrared deer count.” The website states that these sources “supported the conclusion that managing the deer population was a priority for maintaining a healthy ecosystem in Crum Woods.”

The Stewardship Committee website states, “Excessive deer browsing is severely limiting the ability of the forest to regenerate naturally and altering the structure and composition of the forest.”

“The main sign of a healthy forest is that you have multiple [plant layers]. We have a canopy, and that’s basically it,” Black said. “All the shrubs are basically gone.”

Black added that the Biology Department has been conducting research on the effects of the deer population. By setting up fenced areas, the researchers have been able to see how Crum Woods would look with decreased grazing. “Areas where deer are grazing are completely bare except for the adult trees, whereas areas where there are no deer grazing have plant growth,” Black said.

The response from local residents has also been encouraging. “There was very little objection from the local community,” Jabco said. “Actually, there were some people frustrated that we hadn’t done anything sooner.”

According to Jabco, however, most concern has concerned the decision to hire sharpshooters as opposed to other methods of population control. “Most of the people we’ve heard from were asking us why we weren’t using contraceptives,” Jabco said.

The Stewardship Committee website answers this question, saying, “Contraception is experimental in nature and has not been shown to be an effective tool for managing free-ranging deer … It is very difficult to reduce reproduction in the population to a level that will enable the woods to naturally regenerate.”

Still, some constituents and students, such as Ethan Bogdan ’13, have spoken out in opposition to the cull. “If Swarthmore were to implement a contraception program, not only would it be able to set a precedent for other college campuses, but it would also be the recipient of a $10,000 grant to fund its efforts,” said Bogdan. He also said, “There are alternative solutions, from fencing schemes that rotate from plot to plot, to more active stewardship of the land.”

(Bogdan wrote an editorial summarizing his arguments last year, sparking a spirited debate among students. Jabco and another member of the Stewardship Committee replied to his concerns soon after.)

“While sharpshooting will provide the immediate reduction in the deer population that the College seeks, it will not provide a long-term solution—unless it is repeated year after year,” Bogdan said. (However, Bogdan also indicated that currently available contraceptives would need to be applied to deer every year in order to maintain decreases in their population.)

Jabco also commented on the long-term timespan of the cull, agreeing that it would not be one-time event. “Since there really are no other natural predators of the deer that exist, the only deer control is them naturally dying,” Jabco said. As a result, the cull “would have to be an ongoing process.”

“Our idea is that we would control deer to an acceptable population,” Jabco said. This process could take time, but, according to a Conservation and Stewardship Plan released by the Stewardship Committee, “the effect of overpopulation of deer in the woods was ‘profound’” even in 2003.

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