Friday, October 26, 2012

Shenandoah Whitetails Under Assault

Some time ago I received an e-mail from fellow wildlife photographer, Jim Borden, which directed my attention to a post on Flickr by Larry W. Brown.  Mr. Brown specializes in  photographing the wildlife of Shenandoah National Park.  In a post titled, "Public Input is Important?", Brown informed us that a large number of whitetail deer in the Big Meadows area had recently been fitted with either radio collars or ear tags.

Will Bucks Without Radio Collars Or Ear Tags Be A Rarity At Big Meadows?
This program is ostensibly about studying and controlling  Chronic Wasting Disease  (CWD), but many think it has to be more than this and I am inclined to agree.  There is no cure for CWD and no way to effectively control it.  Shenandoah Park has posted a photo of a doe with ear tags on their facebook page and linked to their page on CWD, which may be found by clicking Here.  They state on the facebook page' "this research is being done to protect the deer herd from a horrible and fatal disease--Chronic Wasting Disease", but they fail to point out that there are basically only two forms of response to the presence of CWD--either do nothing or kill as many deer as possible in a designated containment area in hopes of eliminating all infected animals.

Also in a real puzzler, they state on this page that 50-70 deer will be tested for the disease and then tracked through ear tags and radio collars, yet according to many sources-- there is no effective test for chronic wasting disease on living animals.  I just heard Pennsylvania Game Commission personnel who are involved with the CWD program make this statement at a meeting last evening.  This is also stated in the October 26th  issue of "Pennsylvania Outdoor News"  in the article, "Expert: Outlaw the feeding of deer, mineral, salt licks" This article by editor Jeff Mulhollem quotes  David Wolfgang, a veterinarian in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and  past president of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association as saying, "The only certified test for CWD requires killing an animal and examining its brain-stem" 

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection;  however, sayst hat it has been possible since 2008 to test living animals.  This excerpt from their web page on CWD:

"How is CWD diagnosed? Prior to 2008, the only method to definitively diagnose CWD was to examine the brain, tonsils, or lymph nodes in a laboratory. No live-animal test, vaccine, or treatment for CWD existed. In 2008, researchers from the USDA-APHIS and Colorado State University evaluated and validated the first live rectal-tissue biopsy method for detecting chronic wasting disease (CWD) in captive and wild elk. The live rectal biopsy test appears to be nearly as accurate as a post-mortem diagnostic test. The key advantage to the rectal biopsy test is that it can be performed on live animals. With this technique, managers can detect CWD in animals not showing any signs of the disease and, thus, remove them to decrease the likelihood of infecting other individuals. This new live test will improve management and control of the disease, especially in captive settings."

So what is the real scoop on this--I do not know, but whatever the case there is no solution to the problem and the best that can be hoped is to slow the spread of the disease once it is found and that involves killing a lot of deer.  At least at this point Pennsylvania officials have said they will not pursue this path as Wisconsin did, but it remains to be seen what Park Officials will do if the disease is found there.

It is highly recommended that all readers who are traveling to Shenandoah National Park this autumn read Larry's post in detail.  He has done an excellent job of compiling links to information about why this has been done and numerous people have responded with their thoughts on the situation.  He also has written at least two more detailed posts about this as he has learned more about the situation.  He has links to these on the page I linked to above, but I will now list all three links directly below for your ease in locating the material..

Public Input Is Important
This Assessment Cannot Be Just About CWD
National Park Toys

I traveled to the park on Monday morning ,October  22nd, and found few deer using the meadow.  Of the small number of does and fawns present about 1/2 or more had either radio collars or ear tags.  I saw a nice buck without tags or collar, but he left the meadow pursuing a doe which had ear tags, before I could get  photographs.  I saw two small bucks along the drive that did not have collars or tags and a small group of does and fawns by the campground that were tag and collar free. I cannot show you any photos of deer with the tags and collars as a Park Police Helicopter landed in the Meadow shortly after sunrise to transfer a stretcher to the ranger on duty and at that point all of the deer left the meadow.  I soon departed for home after one of the poorest trips to Shenandoah Park in memory.

Helicopter Taking Off From Big Meadows
 Billie Cromwell, who many readers of this blog are familiar with, spent a few days there this week and confirms that there is little whitetail activity in the meadow.  There are mostly feeding on acorns in the wooded areas and a lot of them have either collars or ear tags.

According to the SNP CWD Page," Up to 70 deer will be tagged and/or collared. As of mid-October, 15 were radio collared (six bucks and nine does) and 20 were ear tagged (one buck and 19 does".

"Because we need to test and monitor deer in high density areas, visitors may see them in the areas of Big Meadows, Mathew's Arm Campground, Skyland, Rapidan Fire Road, Elkwallow Wayside, and Dickey Ridge."

It is plain to see that this targets the areas where one has the best opportunity to see whitetails and it seems likely that an inordinate amount of attention was directed at Big Meadows and at the mature bucks.

Whatever the reason or reasons for this study, there seems little doubt that it will negatively impact the whitetail viewing and photography experience at Shenandoah National Park for years to come.

A special thanks to Larry W. Brown for his intensive work in gathering information on this problem and making us aware of it.

If you are unhappy with this study, please voice your displeasure to the appropriate officials:

Tweet them at

Comment on their facebook page at

 By Mail

Shenandoah National Park
3655 Hwy 211 East
Luray, VA 22835

By Phone (540) 999-3500

By Email 

Rolf Gubler Biologist
Division of Natural and Cultural Resources
Shenandoah National Park 540-999-3500 x3291

Karen Beck-Herzog
Management Assistant and Public Information Specialist
Shenandoah National Park 540-999-3500 x3300

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Jim Borden said...

Thanks for sharing this information. This must be kept in front of the public.


Lindsjö taxar said...

Hi! Great to read and lovely pictures. Very interesting.
Will follow your blog.

Fields Jim said...

This is very nicely written and thank you for spreading the word. The secretive way this assessment was handled and the fact they have concentrated their efforts in an area with a high habituated deer concentration instead of distributing the test throughout the entire park certainly leads us to believe there is more to this than a CWD assessment. There are SNP documents from past years that elude to other purposes for 38 deer being captured in Big Meadows out of the 70 being tested in total.

The SNP site does not have up to date information on current status of Big meadows. To date I have found (7) collared bucks in the Greater Big Meadows area. Park officials have informed me that “bucks collared in the Big Meadows area will likely be nine (plus one ear-tagged buck)”. Thus (18) collared deer and (20) deer with ear tags just in the greater Big Meadows area. The parks estimate is 20-25 bucks reside in this area so this give you an idea of the percentage of bucks remaining. I can tell you that in the past 5 weeks I have seen very few bucks without collars in Big Meadows. I am sure there will be less habituated bucks showing up during the November rut, but it will not be like years past. This has been a tuff hit for wildlife photography in the park.

Jim Fields

Tom said...

As someone who has also enjoyed photographing the mature bucks at Big Meadows, I am also confused as to the real purpose of this study.

Willard, you and Larry have done a great job of explaining that CWS cannot truly be studied - or even tested for - without actually killing the animals suspected of having it. So, it seems that we can rule out "CWD testing/study" as the real reason the tagging and collaring is being done.

So, then, what is the Real Reason? I do wish that the NPS could be open and honest about this, and tell us why they are really doing this.

I suspect that the purpose may be that they want to discourage photographers from constantly hanging around the deer with their cameras. They may just think that if they put huge, obtrusive collars on the biggest bucks, then photographers will not pursue the deer so persistently. If that is the reason, or part of the reason, they the NPS should be ashamed of themselves.

It should be OUR decision to pursue deer with a camera - and not something that is determined by an intrusive government action.

If I can bet back east this fall, I will definitely make a few trips to Big Meadows. The tags and collars will not inhibit me in the least from pursuing the bucks hard, from dawn to dusk. I will get every image I possibly can, fully documenting the collared bucks and the impacts of the "study".

You know, when I get the feeling that someone doesn't want me to do something, it makes me all the more determined to do it.

If I get to the meadows, I will attempt to bring a group of fellow wildlife photographers with me, so that we can have a crowd of photographers trampling thru the meadow, the campground, and the surrounding woodlands, pursuing the bucks with our camera gear, creating whatever images we can, just like before. And we will be enjoying it immensely, despite the tags and collars!

I encourage all SNP photographers to do the same. Do not let the park's officials stop you from doing what you love!

Larry W. Brown said...

Willard, this is a fantastic post and I for one am glad to see someone else making some noise about this Whitetail situation at SNP. It's good to know that you are helping to make others aware of what is going on because we all know that SNP is not going to give any one of us the real reasons for this so-called 'study', because they prefer to paint a 'pretty picture' to the locals and the tourists that come through the entrance gates and pay those entrance fees. In the past 4 years I have learned that the internal Park politics at SNP are VERY disturbing, one day I just may unload a lot of the items I've been holding back on, because now they've taken away a grand chunk of my recreational use there, so what the hell do I have to lose?