Let's face it--I knew conditions were less than ideal at the park based on information received from many sources such as Larry Brown, Billie Cromwell, Jim Fields, and Todd Mann, along with my own experience from a brief morning visit in late October. I did not realize: however, that things were as bad as they turned out to be.
My brother Coy and I left for SNP in the early morning hours and saw not one whitetail as we drove from the Thornton Gap Entrance to Big Meadows before dawn. Shortly after dawn we found this superb buck at the Tanner's Ridge overlook. This did not seem all that bad as the tags could easily be removed with photoshop, but unfortunately this proved to be the best encounter of the day.
|Buck 91--One of the few that has only ear tags|
|Buck With Damaged Collar that is damaging the hair on the neck.|
We originally planned to stay for 2 1/2 days, but this was so frustrating that I called the motel where we planned to stay and cancelled our reservations--telling the owner why we were doing so. The management was aware of the situation at the park, was very understanding, and did not penalize us for cancelling on such short notice. This was one of the few bright spots of the day. In the future, I may visit the park on rare occasion to observe the effects of the study, but my frequent trips to SNP are over--at least until the study has run its' course.
While this is distressing for the photographer/wildlife watcher, the worst aspect of the situation is the undue stress and discomfort that this places on the deer. The negative aspects of this study could perhaps be justified if it would significantly benefit the well-being of the deer or combat the spread of CWD, but at this point many are not convinced that it will do so. With that being said, even if the study proved to be fully justified and extremely necessary, there seems no reason to use such a large sample size, which negatively impacts both the animals and the wildlife viewing/photography experience at Shenandoah National Park.
If you have not already done so, be sure to check out the links in previous poss to other writing on this issue by Larry W. Brown, and Todd Mann. Also be sure to check Country Captures for Coy's take on this situation. If his post is not up already--it should be soon.
Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.