Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Herd Reduction Looms For Shenandoah National Park Whitetails

Future Uncertain For Whitetail Deer
It seems there is no good news these days if ones' primary interest is big game photography--especially whitetail deer photography.  Here in Pennsylvania there have been several cases of CWD and three DMAs (Disease Managment Areas) have been established.    So far the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been fairly conservative in dealing with the disease. On the other hand,  The National Park Service is planning to launch a severe response to the disease once  certain triggering thresholds are met.

We first reported on this in the October 26, 2012 post: "Shenandoah Whitetails Under Assault"  At that time the Park had fitted  a large number of deer with ear tags and/or radio collars and were conducting a whitetail deer study geared to charting deer movements.  In conjunction with this a certain number of deer were to be live tested for CWD. Almost overnight they destroyed the world class whitetail photography at Big Meadows which until that time was one of the best areas to observe and photograph whitetail deer in the United States. 

Mature Buck at SNP 2011
 Last week  fellow retired PGC employee Billie Cromwell traveled to SNP to photograph the deer and returned home after two discouraging days.  He called me to ask if I had been there and advised me to cancel any plans I had to visit the park this fall. I had already decided to avoid the park this year due to my disappointing summer trip this year so this meant no change in plans, but it did re-in-force my sense of discouragement about the situation at the Park.  Billie reported that he saw only a handful of deer in the Big Meadows Area.  Places where they were once seen in plenty now were either empty or there was only a deer or two.  He did report seeing a buck or two that was collared last year, but now were wearing none. Soon after talking to Billie, well known Virginia wildlife photographer, Larry W. Brown, contacted me to tell me that the assault on the whitetails of Shenandoah was not over.

Following the links that he sent me, I found that on November 10, the Park released its' CWD Response Plan Amendment/Environmental Assessment plan , which amends the 2013 CWD Detection and Assessment Plan.  To read about CWD and an overview of the  amended plan click Here.

To read the plan in its' entirety or to comment-Click Here:

While the original 2013 plan allows lethal sampling of deer to detect CWD, the proposed amendment allows deer population reduction by lethal means in front country areas of the park to manage the disease.  This would attempt to bring the herd at areas such as Big Meadows in line with  deer numbers in back country areas of the park and in areas outside the park in an attempt to minimize disease transmission.

Big Meadows is listed as the area in the park with the highest deer density/square mile.  Under this amendment 77-81% of the deer would be removed to equal the density of surrounding areas.

If the proposed plan is approved, it will be implemented when two or more positive CWD cases are found within 5 miles of the park boundary or if detected inside the park.  According to the news release this could happen fairly soon (1-3) years or it could be many years away, but it is expected to happen sooner or later.

Also of importance to photographers is that there will be no protection for the mature bucks and all adult deer will be targeted equally.  When it comes to killing deer for CWD testing, the bucks will receive priority in targeting as bucks 2 years of age or older are more likely to have CWD and as they roam over a wider range are supposedly more likely to spread the disease.

Mature Bucks To Be Targeted
Herd reduction will most likely be done at night, from November-March. Specific nighttime area closures may be necessary from November - March in the Central District of the Park so that deer way be shot at areas such as Skyland and Big Meadows.

Public comments may be made either online or by mail.
Comments should be posted online at
Or, send to: Superintendent, Shenandoah National Park, Attn: CWD Response Amendment/EA, 3655 US Highway, 211 East, Luray, VA 22835. 

Public Meetings
Public meetings are scheduled on November 17 (Crozet Public Library, 2020 Library Avenue, Crozet, VA), November 18 (Elkton Community Center, 20593 Blue and Gold Dr, Elkton, VA). All meetings start at 7:00 PM. 

Look for more commentary on this and the situation in the Pennsylvania Elk Range within the near future.  

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.