NPS PLAN AND OUR ADVOCACY
NPS Planning (2006-22012)
Rock Creek Park management reports a rapidly increasing deer population in the 1990's, but appears to have said very little about it until 2006, when it began a deer management process with a scoping meeting. This was some years after deer population had peaked and settled into what appears to be a steady state with annual fluctuations. (Deer population trends from the final RCP EIS - Chapter 1, pp 13-16)
Earlier, the Park repeatedly stated that rampant exotic species were the major problem in the park . Beginning in 1996 a series of documents testified to the damage these exotic species were causing and called them the major problem facing the Park and presented plans for dealing with them.(See "Mismanagement in Rock Creek Park" this page)
However, little was done about the exotic plants and by 2006, the Park appeared to have dropped that effort and turned its attention to the deer instead. The scoping meeting was followed in 2009 with a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and management plan. This considered a number of options but selected as the preferred option one that used sharpshooters to kill deer over bait stations. Contraceptive methods were never formally compared to lethal methods but instead were rejected as a class based on a set of criteria not applied to any other option. The park collected comments on the draft EIS and in 2012 published a final EIS and formal Record of Decision. Despite overwhelming public support for nonlethal approaches and opposition to lethal approaches and an offer by a non-profit to share the cost of a contraceptive approach, the NPS again chose the option of killing deer over bait stations. In all this time there had been very little effort to reduce any effect the deer might have on the native flora of the park and even less to deal with the concerns of local residents such as vehicle collisions and damage to private gardens. Instead, the NPS plan pointed to deer kills to take care of these problems.
( All references from the final RCP deer plan - History of public involvement Chapter 5, pp271-273; comments for and against lethal vs non-lethal Appendix G, p330; handling of contraceptive methods Chapter 2, pp55-58; attempts to handle vegetation aside from deer management Chapter 1, pp24 - 26; vehicle collisions - Front matter, pp xi, Chapter 2, p 93, Chapter 3, p147; Gardens and other public issues Appendix G, p353)
Filing Suit against the Park (2009-22012)
Since the Draft EIS was published, a group of neighbors had been meeting on the issue and attempting some public education within the neighborhood. In October 2012 some of these neighbors joined with In Defense of Animals and the Meyer, Glitzenstein, and Crystal law firm to sue the NPS on the grounds that the killing of the park’s deer for the first time in the history of the park violated Federal Law and the park’s own rules because there are less drastic ways to control the deer population. In addition, the Park Service did not consider the effect of exotic plant species in conjunction with the deer issue nor how killing deer over bait stations would impair the character of the Park as an oasis of serenity and peace. (The complaint is available here.) A facebook page and online petition were also started during this period.
The court decision and the first kill (March 2013)
The legal action delayed the planned kill until at least the middle of March, when the proposed Fall/Winter season would be nearly over. In early March of 2013, the courts decided that the NPS process had not violated any laws (the court did not rule on the facts or the appropriateness of the NPS decisions, just the process). To the surprise of the plaintiffs, USDA’s Wildlife Services hired by the NPS, began shooting the deer just before Easter, after the winter season was over. The NPS announced plans to kill 60-80 deer in 4 nights of shooting, and later announced they had actually shot 20. The kill was announced in the afternoon of March 28, and killing was scheduled to begin that night. Despite only a few hours warning, the local advocates for the deer managed to mobilize a rally on March 28 and every subsequent day until the end of March. There was a lot of media coverage and support for the demonstrators.
National Park Service Bias and Distortions in Its Deer Management Plan
There are numerous misinterpretations, biased analyses, and misleading statements in the NPS analysis underlying its EIS and Deer management plan.
● The rationale for saying the Park needs to take any action against the deer is based upon a gross misinterpretation of the data. The NPS analysis cites results at low plant levels and speculates about long term effects upon forest regeneration. It completely ignores the direct test available in the same study showing the deer have no effect upon forest regeneration (see “Dr. Schmitz and the legal Petition” in the timeline of our campaign, this page)
● The NPS analysis of the deer population solutions is noticeably biased in favor of lethal methods and against contraception. This begins with the strange treatment of contraceptive methods. Instead of being compared with other methods on the dimensions of cost, effectiveness and whatever else is regarded as desirable, they are rejected up front on the basis of certain criteria not applied to any other methods. (All page numbers here and below from Final EIS) Chapter 2, pp55-58
● Then there are the specifics of the criteria themselves which in some cases appear to be specifically devised to reject a method. For example the criterion of multi-year efficacy is defined as three or more years from a single application, when the most used method is effective for two years. The need for three, rather than two, years is not otherwise explained. Appendix D p.313 criterion 2 and footnote a
● The NPS analysis makes unsupported and unrealistic assumptions that favor lethal methods such as the very low “20% growth rate” that results in the estimation that the target population can be reached in three years by the bait-and-shoot approach. When challenged by public comments, the NPS does not even attempt to defend this conclusion but admits it is prepared to shoot the deer for the entire 15 year duration of the plan, if needed. Yet the three-year conclusion in the main body of the document is not subjected to caveats, but left to stand as if proven and used in public statements. Three year estimate –Chapter 2 p. 64; Response to comment about three year estimate – Appendix G p.348
● There is also misleading language, as when the early parts of the document leave the impression, on someone not familiar with the EPA or FDA approvals, that most of the contraceptive methods would actually be illegal. Later sections make it clear that legal approvals are readily available, but these sections are so buried in the report that they are likely not to be read by many of the audience. Legal approvals -- Chapter 2 p 57
vs. Appendix D, p306, paragraph 2
● Finally, after many scientifically sophisticated objections have been raised in public comments the Final EIS showed a disturbing tendency to cite vague and possibly non-existent “NPS policies” that must be met by any acceptable contraceptive method. These policies are not stated nor given a location or history. They look suspiciously like placeholders that the NPS will use to reject contraceptive methods if all else fails. NPS policies added to final plan – Appendix G p343, last paragraph. Also, Chapter
2, p. 57, compared to the corresponding list in the draft plan
Mismanagement in Rock Creek Park
There is a great deal of evidence Rock Creek Park is mismanaged. The ecosystem is badly out of balance because the park is overrun with invasive plants. The Park Service has long been aware of this problem but has not taken the necessary steps to deal with it. (see refs in Library)
In 1996 the Service explained that exotic species “are presently considered to be aggressive and displacing or killing native plants and eliminating habitats which the park should be protecting” As the Service also acknowledged, this process if left unattended, “ will result in significant impacts on parklands”
In 2000 the Service issued a Report on the “Invasive Non-Native Plant Mitigation Program” for the Park, , that reiterated that “invasive non-native plants seriously threaten the forest “by aggressively displacing and killing native plants, reducing native habitats, and stifling forest regeneration” and stating that invasive non-native species are “the most serious threat to this natural area and are the top management priority.
In 2004, the Park Service issued a “Draft Exotic Management Plan” that again repeated many of these dire conclusions. That Draft Plan reiterated that exotic infestations had reached “critical levels, and that a number of the exotic species present in Rock Creek Park can “disperse into forest interiors, inhibit regeneration in canopy openings and even threaten mature trees.” Nine years later, the Park Service has yet to issue a final Plan to address this critical problem.
The 2005 General Management Plan for the Park reported that 238 of the plant species in the park were introduced species, not native to the area, and that 42 of them have been judged to be invasive exotic plants that, unless controlled, are likely to spread and adversely affect native plant populations.
Despite these reports over the last two decades, NPS has failed to make it a priority to stem the overwhelming spread of exotic plants inside the park or in neighboring private gardens. If it weren’t for volunteer groups coming in to remove some invasive plant species, very little would be getting done. Instead the Park has turned to the easier task of killing the deer, though this will not solve the problem. ____________________________________________________
First Freedom of Information Act requests (May-July 2013)
In May 2013, Meyer Glitzenstein and Crystal sent a Freedom Of Information Act request (FOIA) to the National Park Service and Rock Creek Park requesting information about the March kills and a few other issues. In July 2013, they filed an appeal with the Department of Interior because there had been no reply to the request. There has still (in July of 2014) been no reply to the request or the appeal.
In July we also sent an FOIA request to USDA for information about the NPS contract with Wildlife Services to kill deer in RCP. This request has been answered.
Dr. Schmitz and the Legal Petition (August- 2013)
The National Park Service based their decision to begin an unprecedented multi-year deer killing program on two NPS studies conducted in 2009 and 2011, which the agency claims show that deer are impairing forest regeneration in the park and facilitating the rise of invasive non-native vegetation. An eminent forestry expert and Yale professor Dr. Oswald Schmitz, volunteered to review these studies and concluded in an 11-page sworn Declaration that the Park Service's studies provide no evidence “that deer are impairing the forest regeneration in Rock Creek Park or that deer are facilitating the rise of invasive non-native vegetation."
In particular, the well designed 2011 study shows the opposite of the NPS contention: its data “graphically demonstrate that deer in Rock Creek Park are having no net effect on forest regeneration”. The study shows effect of the deer at very low (less than a foot) and moderate (one to three feet) heights but not at three feet and above. Therefore they have no effect on the growth of mature trees and cannot effect forest regeneration. (It is a bit like a gardener thinning out seedlings) The NPS analysis presented the results at low and moderate heights and then speculated about long term effects. It completely ignored the direct test available at the heights above three feet. Final EIS pp17-18
This information was included in a petition that The Washington Humane Society, In Defense of Animals, and a coalition of D.C. residents sent to the Department of Interior, National Park Service and Rock Creek Park management, asking for a meeting to discuss the issues. In late September we received a response from The NPS stating that the agency did not have to respond to the petition because it was not connected to a rule and the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is less than five years old. The Agency did not address any of the scientific arguments presented in the petition or deal with the information in any substantive way. (Petition and response)
The Appeal (September 2013)
On September 27, Meyer Glitzanstein & Crystal filed the opening brief on behalf of neighbors of Rock Creek Park and In Defense of Animals in our appeal to save the Rock Creek Park deer. The appeal, filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, demonstrates that the National Park Service lacks the authority to kill deer in the park. It also shows that the Park Service does not even have the data it said it needed to determine that the deer, rather than exotic plants, are interfering with forest regeneration in the park, and that the Park Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to take into account the issue of exotic plant species, as well as the fact that killing the wildlife in the park will ruin the ability of many to enjoy this very special place. The hearing took place on September 11 2014 at 9:30 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The judges asked some questions of the government attorney which he did not seem able to answer.
In January 2015 the cour decided against us, citing deference to the Agency: "Under the Chevron analysis, we defer to an agency’s interpretation, not only where it is the best interpretation, but where it is merely “reasonable.” (Page 10)
The early 2014 kill (January through March 2014)
On January 2, 2014 the park announced (in a closed session for invited reporters only) that it would continue the kills on unspecified nights in unspecified locations until the end of March. (see news story). The general press announcement was not made until January 6.
The killings actually began on January 6, in record breaking cold temperatures. Although there was no announcement from the park, not even a warning about road closures, some neighbors noticed a road closure and were told by the police that the killings were taking place. A few hardy souls braved the cold winds to protest that night.
Some faithful supporters drove through the park most nights during the 3 month period. They saw signs of action a few nights after the January 6 kill and several more times later. However we learned nothing from the Park service until after the end of March when they announced they had killed 106 deer. There was no information on when, where, or how the kills took place.
Second FOIA Requests (April 2014)
After the NPS announcement of kills, In Defense of Animals sent an FOIA request to USDA asking for contract and correspondence information between Wildlife Services and NPS concerning deer management in Rock Creek Park. They also send another FOIA request to NPS and RCP requesting specifics about the latest round of kills and about deer population estimates or counts.
This time we did receive a response, including information on the age and sex of the deer killed.
December 2014 Deer Kill
In November 2014, RCP staff spoke at a local garden club meeting and announced that they plan to kill deer again in early 2015. They said they expect to find 45 deer per square mile in their November estimate of population density and will kill in early 2015.
However our surveillance team found evidence that they actually started killing on December 8 and continued on the 9th. We were out protesting on the 9th until well after midnight.
On December 23, the park announced that it had removed 55 deer which concluded their action for the 2014/2015 season.
The Appeal Decision (January 2015).
On January 21, 2015, the Court of Appeals issued its decision against us. In explaining its decision to uphold the lower court, the appellate court cited the need to defer to the National Park Service on technical, policy, and interpretation issues (as had the lower court).
This practice of deferring to the Agency allows the National Park Service to get away with extreme bias, deception, and scientific distortion. Until the NPS is required to get an independent science review from a respected Agency such as the National Academy of Sciences we cannot hope to get a valid review of the NPS’s analysis leading to the Rock Creek Park bait-and-shoot killings.
Third FOIA Request (February 2015)
In February 2015 we sent a Freedom of Information Request to Rock Creek Park and the National Park Service in order to update and expand the information on the deer kills. We have never received any response to this request
The December 2015 Kill
On November 30, 2015, Rock Creek Park announced that the deer kill would resume during a “window of action” beginning the next day, December 1. The announcement also mentioned that the population had been reduced to about 19 deer per square mile (within the RCP goal of 15-20 per square mile) and that “continued management” would be necessary. There was no mention of non-lethal methods, despite the fact that the final EIS had said “Population maintenance would be conducted via reproductive control methods if these are available and feasible”
On the evening of December 7, it was quite clear that the Park was setting up to kill that night: there were barriers and Rangers near the community gardens and some people had been warned off the horse trails. We got a protest group out at 10 PM. By that time the barriers had mostly gone. We stayed on and saw a few NPS trucks but no clear signs of shooting. We are not sure whether they did a very fast kill in some way or decided to quit, perhaps from hearing about our publicized plans.
On December 14 the National Park Service announced that they had killed 26 deer in one night and that this concludes their killing program for the season. Once again they said that the population was under their target of 15-20. Once again the said that continued management would be necessary. There was still no mention of non-lethal methods. So far as we know, RCP has not done any recent evaluation of reproductive controls methods and they clearly have not published any evaluation of them before deciding to continue with bait and shoot
On November 15, 2016 RCP announced a window of action for a deer kill RCP from November 15 through March 31. November 15 is also the date that RCP received a letter from us requesting that they review the basis for a continued kill now that they have reached their goal of 15-20 deer per square mile. Although they did not mention the letter in their announcement, they did state that they intended to continue the kills in order to keep the population down. They apparently had not done a new density estimate, using the same estimate of 19 per square mile that they had determined in 2015.
We mounted a protest on the night of November 29 because the Park Service had alerted trail users that there would be deer kills on that night. We had a good turnout, but after putting up barriers as for a kill, the Park service removed them wpparently without engaging shooters. There was speculation that they had abandoned their plans for that night because of our protest, but we have no way of knowing for sure. Nor, as it turns out, do we have any way of knowing when the kills actually took place.
On December 21, RCP published an announcement that they had donated. meat to a soup kitchen The announcement also mentioned in passing that they had killed 36 deer and were finished for the season. They did not mention the date(s) of these kills.
On December 15,2016 we submitted a FOIA request to the United States Geological Survey (“USGS”) for information relating to the NPS decision to continue the deer kills.. In particular, we requested records including scientific data collected, and statistical analyses conducted, in support of a report on the impacts of deer herbivory on vegetation in Rock Creek Park. The NPS relies heavily on this information to justify its deer-killing program.
The USGS responded by withholding all information. They atually included a list of several studies whose titles indicated they were various drafts of the stuwy we particularly requested, but blanked out all the information in every document.
On March 31 we filed an appeal to the USGS respons on the grounds that the information being withhels is purely scientific and therefor not subject to being withheld under FOIA and furthermore does not otherwise fit the basis on which USGS was withholding it.(Exemption 5 of FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5), becaise the materials are not part of any current deliberative process. We have not received any reply to this appeal as of the end of May, well beyond the 20 working days allowed for response.