Archive for August, 2007

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A spotted axis doe with a white fallow doe in the Olema Valley. Ever since the Point Reyes National Seashore in defiance of public opinion set out to eradicate their herds, the park administration has repeatedly contradicted itself regarding who would benefit from their meat. (Photo by Janine Warner, founder of DigitalFamily.com)

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Seldom are prophecies as quickly fulfilled as one in my Aug. 8 posting regarding the duplicity of the Point Reyes National Seashore administration. Anyone who still takes seriously the park administration’s public statements might do better to take note of this chronology:

• In an attempt to sugarcoat the shooting of axis and fallow deer in the National Seashore, the park administration in early summer repeatedly told the press that dead deer would be given to the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Santa Rosa and the St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Rafael.

• In late July as White Buffalo Inc., the gunmen hired by the park, were preparing to begin their slaughter of 80 deer, the National Seashore administration told the press that no longer were all the slain deer earmarked for feeding the needy. Some carcasses would now go to Hopper Mountain Wildlife Refuge to feed condors.

• On Aug. 8 just after White Buffalo started shooting deer, this blog warned that National Seashore statements about what would happen to all the dead deer were not to be trusted. When culling had been carried out in the park 20 years earlier, it was noted, those deer shot where the park’s hunters would have had to carry them a ways had been left where they dropped. It eventually turned out that most dead deer had not gone to feeding the needy even though the park had told the public that’s what was happening.

The Point Reyes Light on Aug. 23 published a photo of a dead fallow deer and said members of the public had found two such carcasses in the Olema Valley. The Light also reported: “National Park officials had received word of the deer but were as of yet unable to determine who was responsible for their shootings…. There has been a history of poaching in the park and park officials noted that poaching is ongoing. ‘It could very well have nothing to do with us,’ said park spokesperson John Dell’Osso.”

The West Marin Citizen that same day reported that someone else had found six carcasses of deer shot to death in the Olema Valley. The paper quoted park spokesman Dell’Osso as by then saying, “We’re basically stopping the work that was going on so we can look into this specific situation a bit more. If we find out this was part of our program, then it’s not acceptable.”

The Citizen also quoted Tony DeNicola, president of White Buffalo, as saying none of the dead deer found in the Olema Valley were shot by his gunmen. “He asserted that his hunters would have removed any animals they killed within a matter of hours,” The Citizen reported.

• But the park administration’s line kept changing, and by the time The Marin Independent Journal interviewed Dell’Osso for its Aug. 23 edition, the park spokesman was saying that — contrary to what he and White Buffalo had previously told the press — some dead deer were deliberately “left in the park to provide food for scavenging animals.”

This is an arrogant indifference to truth masquerading as wildlife management. In a month’s time, the National Seashore administration’s story went from: 1) all the deer meat is earmarked for feeding the needy; to 2) some of the meat will not go to the needy but will be fed to condors; to 3) rotting carcasses of deer found shot to death in the park could well have been killed by poachers; to 4) if White Buffalo did, in fact, leave dead deer lying around, that would be contrary to park policy; to 5) the park told White Buffalo to leave some carcasses strewn about as food for scavengers.

And as The Light’s photo demonstrated, the main scavengers are typically vultures and maggots. The park administration wants to increase the amount of flies around here? And is willing to withhold meat from poor people to do so?

And what about the killing itself? The Aug. 2 Point Reyes Light reported that White Buffalo’s gunmen “aim for the head because a bullet to the head kills a deer in 30 to 90 seconds.” Yet the Aug. 23 Light notes the dead deer in its photo was shot in the shoulder. And The West Marin Citizen simultaneously reported receiving photos of six dead deer that “were shot primarily in the body, which could have caused unnecessary suffering.”

Welcome to the Abu Ghraib National Seashore where only the bad guys know how bad things really are.

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Using flash photography last Friday night, I managed to get neighbors Jay Haas’ and Didi Thompson’s Charlie cat climbing into a field of horses.…which is better than getting a Charlie horse climbing into a field of cats.

Cats, the musical, was loosely based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot titled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Opening in 1982, Cats played for 20 years, becoming the world’s longest-running musical, and it now cries out for a sequel. Eliot died in 1965, however, so I’ve decided to submit my own collection of doggerel à la Eliot titled Old Cat’s Book of Practical Possums.

If any of my British readers happen to know composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, please tell the baron he can make millions more with a sequel called Possums, which will be loosely based on my transforming poetry — assuming, of course, I get my 10 percent.

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The Naming of Possums

The naming of possums is a difficult calling.
It isn’t a matter of mere caterwauling.
For possums have no names for each other.
They know by the scent who’s mate and who’s mother.

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Moriarty: The Mystery Possum

Moriarty’s the mystery possum; he has a pink-skinned snout —
You’ll never know when he’ll show up or when he’s not about.
He baffles the raccoons and brings the foxes to despair,
For when they do their nightly search, their prey’s no longer there.

He knows when there’s a cricket near or a moth is unattended,
Or when the cat food’s been left out or the fence is poorly mended.
For coons and foxes on the hunt, Siamese or cocker-spaniel fare
Was going to be their evening meal, but it’s no longer there.

Moriarty, Moriarty. There’s no one like Moriarty.
Whatever crime’s discovered, he’s not the guilty party.
You’ll find dinner on his mottled coat or in his fingers pink,
And when you think that you have found some paw prints in your sink,
They’re never his paw prints; you know he couldn’t get inside.
Perhaps he can; perhaps he can’t; perhaps he’s never tried.

Intruder? Prowler? Nighttime stalker….Moriarty’s on the go.
Let his brethren play the possum; that’s not his style of show.
A marsupial mystery to us all, some say he’s like a rat.
Moriarty cares not what they say. He’s watching for the cat.

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Gus: The Theatrical Possum

When he is scared, the possum Gus bares his fangs and growls,
But Gus is not a one to fight and secretly fears scowls.
So when you see opossum Gus a’looking mighty tough,
I’d just say, “Hi,” and walk on by. It’s only huff and puff.

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The Ad-dressing of Possums

As you’ve learned about possums, they’re not all the same.
When sending one home, will you now know its name?
His tail may be scaly, his fur in a mat,
But this you must know: a possum’s no rat.

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KWMR and Love Field in Point Reyes presented a “Far West Fest” Saturday, Aug. 18, as a fundraiser for the community radio station (90.5 FM in Point Reyes Station and 89.3 in Bolinas). Throughout the fair, which ran from 11:30 a..m. to 7 p.m. at the privately owned baseball field, acoustic music and amplified music alternated on two stages. Here the crowd dances to the band Sambadá.

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Approximately 750 paying adults plus dozens of children and volunteers enjoyed sunny weather, with many families picnicking in Love Field’s outfield.

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Vendors’ booths offered jams and jellies, artwork, a variety of prepared foods, newspaper subscriptions, face painting, t-shirts, children’s books, and information on numerous organizations.

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Carlos Porrata of Inverness and his granddaughter play in the shade of the face-painting booth. The retired state park ranger’s colorful braclet shows he has paid admission while the stamp on his hand shows he’s old enough to buy beer.

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The Far West Fest included a “Kids’ Zone” filled with outdoor toys, such as this.

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The audience dances to the band Camper Van Beethoven during the fundraiser for KWMR. The station, incidentally, can be heard streaming at KWMR.org online.

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West Marin Citizen editor Jim Kravets (left) and reporter Jeremy Sharp sold subscriptions to the new weekly newspaper. Other staff also took turns manning the booth.

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A laid-back celebration. Despite bright sun in Point Reyes Station, a light breeze off Tomales Bay kept festival goers comfortable. Here an acoustic band tunes up in the background.

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The band System 9 entertained several hundred Inverness Fair goers Saturday, Aug. 11, in First Valley. The fair ran from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

100_4962.jpgGene Ptak of Inverness and Nav Singh, an owner of the Inverness Store, shucked and barbecued oysters throughout the fair as a benefit for Papermill Creek Children’s Corner preschool.

100_4958.jpg Fairgoers admire the work of several painters, who used an Inverness Way fence for their gallery.

100_4967.jpgThroughout the fair held at the firehouse green, Terry Aleshire of Inverness gave motorcycle-sidecar rides to kids, plus an occasional parent, as a benefit for the Inverness Garden Club.

100_4961.jpg Scoby Zook of Inverness during the fair manned a fundraising table for the Dance Palace. Many other nonprofits also had fundraising or informational tables along Inverness Way.

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IN OTHER, OLDER NEWS: Many years ago, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen (1916-97) wrote that he kept a file of items to use whenever he had space, so I began keeping a similar file, which I labeled: “Quotes Worth Saving.

One item from Caen’s file that ended up in mine has to do with Winston Churchill’s famous saying, “The British Navy has survived 300 years of rum, buggery, and the lash.” To this Caen added, “That sounds like another quiet Saturday night South of Market.”

Churchill, of course, had a legendary way with words. Take his comment in a 1939 radio broadcast two months after Stalin and Hitler signed their non-aggression pact: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Has anything changed in the Kremlin? Part of the confusion, of course, results from the fact that folks in Moscow speak Russian.

In October 2000, The Chronicle reported that “Boris Yeltsin scolded Mike Wallace during a 60 Minutes interview: ‘An experienced journalist like yourself should express himself in a more civilized fashion.’ Wallace’s question, ‘Is Yeltsin thin-skinned about the press?’ had been mistranslated as asking whether the former Russian leader was a ‘thick-skinned hippopotamus.’”

One item from my Quotes Worth Saving file concerns James Gordon Bennett Jr., who took over the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune from his late father. “Father had no enemies,” the son commented, “but his friends intensely disliked him.”

Here are a few more newspaper stories from Quotes Worth Saving:

DECATUR, GEORGIA — “A man accused of holding up a Domino’s Pizza outlet because he believed he was the target of the company’s ‘Avoid the Noid’ ad campaign has been found not guilty by reason of insanity… [Kenneth] Noid, who was described as ‘acutely psychotic,’ held two employees in the restaurant in Chamblee hostage for nearly six hours in January before he surrendered. Police said Noid thought the pizza maker’s TV commercials (which showed a giggling, red-hatted gremlin called ‘the Noid,’ who tried to chill pizzas before they could be delivered) were aimed at him.” — Associated Press, 1989

PHILADELPHIA — “Two Amish men have been accused of buying cocaine from a motorcycle gang called the Pagans and then distributing it to young members of the conservative religious sect. ‘Bikes and buggies, it’s a rather strange combination,’ Pennsylvania State Police Maj. Robert Werts said of yesterday’s indictment.” — Marin Independent Journal, 1998

IRAN — “A 16-month-old baby in Iran was found safe and slumbering in the den of a mother bear after being missing for three days… The baby was the child of nomadic parents in western Lorestan province who found their child missing after returning to their tent from the fields. A search party later discovered the toddler in the bear’s den about six miles from the encampment. The team said the child had been breast-fed by the bear; doctors reported the baby was in good health.” — Earth Environment Service, 2001

SACRAMENTO — “A 26-year-old man was arrested early yesterday for hitting his wife with a frozen squirrel, police said. Police spokeswoman Betsy Braziel said Kao Khae Saephan had been arguing with his wife about 2:30 a.m. when he walked into the kitchen and took several frozen squirrels from the freezer. The woman told police that when she walked into the room, her husband swung the squirrels at her and struck her in the head… Saephan was booked in Sacramento County Jail on suspicion of spousal abuse.” — Associated Press, 1991

HARRISON, ARKANSASSun editor Jon Vader testified yesterday that he used a photo of an elderly Arkansas woman to accompany a fabricated article about an aged pregnant woman because he assumed the woman in the photograph was dead. Nellie Mitchell, 96, of Mountain Home is alive and suing The Sun, a tabloid newspaper published in Boca Raton, Florida, for $1 million.” — Associated Press, 1991

FRANCE — “A three-pound meteorite tore through the roof of a parked car in the French Alpine town of Chambery, setting the vehicle on fire. Police said the small, molten-basalt rock fell from the sky at around 3 a.m. on April 11… The car’s owner, awakened by the crash and fire, refused to believe it was a meteor and insisted on filing an arson complaint with police.” — San Francisco Chronicle, 1997

AND FINALLY — “For many in the West, diseases are a bit like birds: everyone gets them, but poor countries have more exotic species.” — The Economist, Aug. 11-17, 2007

Last week’s posting discussed Senator Dianne Feinstein’s challenging Point Reyes National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher’s plans to close Drakes Bay Oyster Company.
County supervisors had asked Feinstein to intervene after hearing from members of the public, including UC Berkeley biologist Corey Goodman, who revealed the park administration had misrepresented research to justify closing the company.

On July 21, Feinstein toured the oyster farm with owner Kevin Lunny and Supt. Neubacher, as well as convened a meeting in Olema of top Park Service officials, National Seashore officials, Lunny, Supervisor Steve Kinsey and others. The upshot of the meeting was that Lunny can now get the permits he needs to improve the oyster operation.

Four days earlier, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey had written Supt. Neubacher, saying his plan to imminently start exterminating the axis and fallow deer herds in the park was unjustified. She disputed his administration’s claim that park research showed the growth of the herds has reached crisis stage. Nonetheless, extermination has now begun.

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White, as well as brown, fallow deer browse with spotted axis deer in the Olema Valley. Notice how the spiral antlers of the axis buck seen here contrast with the palmated antlers of the fallow buck in the next picture. (Photos by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com)

Perhaps the park has displayed its most outrageous chutzpah when it claims the fallow and axis deer eat too much brush, thereby depriving the blacktail deer of food and the threatened red-legged frog of riparian habitat. In fact, there is such a buildup of brush in the National Seashore that it has become a fire hazard. Why do you suppose the park each year holds all those controlled burns?

As for threats to the red-legged frog, the main two dangers are from bullfrogs and the National Seashore administration.

The park’s policy of converting historic stockponds from freshwater ponds to saltwater lagoons amounts to eliminating primary habitats for the red-legged frog. Indeed, when the park was initially discussing plans to convert the Giacomini Ranch to a saltwater marsh, the Neubacher administration acknowledged it would be wiping out red-legged frog habitat but said not to worry; there’s plenty more elsewhere in the park. At the time, the administration boasted that one of the largest populations of red-legged frogs in California is in the National Seashore.

A much greater threat to red-legged frogs than non-native deer are non-native bullfrogs, which eat adults and tadpoles. Scientists have noted that much of the park’s red-legged frog population has been displaced by bullfrogs, which are found in ponds throughout the park. Hundreds of bullfrogs can be found in some Olema Valley ponds.

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A brown fallow buck displays his moose-like antlers.

So why isn’t the park setting its sights on bullfrogs rather than pretending that the threat to red-legged frogs is fallow and axis deer? Because what the Neubacher administration really wants to protect is itself. What the park passes off as science is in actuality a political calculation: “Catch hell now and get it over with.”

Neubacher became superintendent after a citizens advisory commission appointed by the Secretary of the Interior held hearings in which the public and scientists from across the county determined the optimum size of the herds. Their conclusion? Approximately 350 deer apiece. What followed, however, were periodic public outcries over methods used in culling the herds.

It periodically seemed the park just couldn’t do it right:

• In the 1980s and early 1990s, rangers claimed 90 percent of the deer they killed were going to St. Anthony’s Dining Room to feed the poor. In 1992, however, when The Point Reyes Light invoked the Freedom of Information Act to check the park’s culling records for the previous eight months, it turned out that only 29 percent of the deer shot had been ending up at the soup kitchen. Deer slain where rangers would have had to lug them a ways to reach a vehicle were left where they dropped.

The National Seashore earlier this year said it will donate the slain fallow and axis deer to the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Santa Rosa and the St. Vincent de Paul Society in San Rafael. It now says the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in the Central Valley will get some of the meat to feed condors. The park would like the public to think that all the meat will go to these organizations. Past experience suggests otherwise.

• During culling in 1992, some rangers merely herded the deer into low brush, shot willy-nilly at them, made no attempt to finish off wounded animals, and left them all to rot. Unfortunately, deer with a gut wound can take several painful days to die. When then-Supt. John Sansing found out what was going on, he acknowledged the rangers were in the wrong and demanded the culling be done in a humane fashion. The culling then continued through 1994, after which Supt. Neubacher stopped it, and the herds began growing,
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A white fallow doe, whose ancestors lived in the Near East, and a spotted axis doe, whose ancestors came from India and what is now Sri Lanka. Rancher Doc Ottinger in the late 1940s acquired the original members of their herds from the San Francisco Zoo, which had a surplus, and brought them to Point Reyes for hunting.

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So what is really going on? Despite Congress’ intent when it voted to create the Point Reyes National Seashore, the Neubacher administration is in the process of creating a Disneyland-like facade of wilderness. In the process, much of the cultural history of West Marin is being obliterated.

The narrow-gauge-railroad town of Hamlet has been razed, the pioneer town of Jewell has been wiped out, historic barns have been torn down in the Olema Valley, attempts are underway to end 150 years of oyster growing in Drakes Estero, and the 65-year-resident herds of fallow and axis deer are threatened with extermination. All this reminds one of Taliban zealots in 2001 blasting apart two 6th-century Buddha statues carved into a cliff. The Taliban considered the the 125- and 174-foot-high sculptures non-Islamic and, therefore, out of place in Afghanistan.

From the end of the last ice age 11,000 years ago until the National Seashore was created, elk and — since the Gold Rush — cows kept Point Reyes in grassland. However, the park has eliminated grazing on hundreds of acres, which have now become brushed over with coastal chaparral. As this happens, rare plants that can only live in grassland are endangered. Grassland rodents disappear, thus reducing a key food source for eagles, hawks, and owls that had hunted the fields.

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The environmental damage to the grassland ecosystems of former pastures seems to matter less to the park administration than making the landscape look wild. However, this artificial wilderness bears no resemblance to what Point Reyes had been like since the Pleistocene Epoch.

The Neubacher administration would appear to imagine that the tule elk, which the park reintroduced to Point Reyes in 1978 after a 110-year absence, will eventually become numerous enough to replace cows on the point. But it’s all Fantasyland. If elk numbers ever got that high again, the park would need to reintroduce 15,000 Miwoks, as used to live in the area, to cull the herd through eating a lot of venison. In contrast, the herds of cows the elk would displace can be, and are being, efficiently culled — by the ranchers who own them.

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It’s time that more members of Congress than just Woolsey and Feinstein pay attention to the park administration’s repeatedly thwarting the will of both Congress and most of the public. So far, the Neubacher administration is shrugging off Congresswoman Woolsey’s letter opposing its plan to eliminate the fallow and axis herds. The time to act is now. Professional riflemen have already begun shooting deer. Readers need to email Woolsey via http://woolsey.house.gov/contactemailform.asp and request she organize more support in Congress for these exotic creatures.

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Threatened with extinction in the Point Reyes National Seashore, black and white versions of fallow deer browse in the park’s underbrush. Generations of the deer, whose ancestors came from in the Near East, had lived on Point Reyes before the National Seashore opened in 1965. The National Seashore now wants to eliminate them as non-native newcomers. (Photo by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com)

The administration of Point Reyes National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher is beginning to feel the heat from members of Congress.

Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and US Senator Dianne Feinstein have now joined West Marin residents, the agricultural community, and animal-rights groups in questioning the park administration’s justifications for two drastic plans: closing Drakes Bay Oysters and eliminating the park’s 60-year-resident herds of fallow and axis deer.

At the request of county supervisors, a concerned Senator Feinstein on July 21 convened a meeting to discuss the National Seashore administration’s plans to close Drake’s Bay Oysters. The company is owned by Kevin Lunny, who also raises grass-fed beef within the park, and he was on hand along with top National Park Service officials, state officials, Supervisor Steve Kinsey, and others.

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Kevin Lunny shows baby oysters that will be raised in Drakes Estero. (Photo by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com)

Senator Feinstein, who also toured Drakes Bay Oysters, at times had her hackles up. She knew Professor Corey Goodman had revealed to the Board of Supervisors that the park administration had misrepresented data in justifying its plan to close the oyster farm. Dr. Goodman, a professor of microbiology at UC Berkeley whose expertise in analyzing data is widely recognized, previously reviewed research as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The upshot of Feinstein’s meeting in the Olema Inn is that Lunny can now get the permits he needs to upgrade the oyster farm he bought from the Johnson family. Still to be decided, however, is the fate of the mariculture operation after 2012 when its current lease expires.

Also familiar with Dr. Goodman’s revelations regarding the park’s misrepresenting research data is Congresswoman Woolsey’s office, as spokesman Chris Shields confirmed for me last week. The congresswoman on May 30 discussed axis and fallow deer with a coalition that included the Marin Humane Society, In Defense of Animals, Marin Wildcare, and local residents. She subsequently wrote Neubacher on July 17, disputing his claim that there is an immediate need to eliminate fallow and axis deer in the park.

“There is no urgency to move forward,” Congresswoman Woolsey wrote. “Park research fails to show any ecosystems collapsing or any native animal populations currently declining because of the exotic deer’s presence in the park.”

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Not all “white deer,” as they are often called, are white. Fallow deer can be white, brown, spotted, and black. The spotted deer seen here, however, are axis deer while the black critter is angus beef on the hoof. (Photo by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com)

Unfortunately, as Dr. Goodman complained to Marin County supervisors, the press too often has uncritically spread the National Seashore’s inaccurate claims about the oyster company. The same could be said of inaccurate claims about the deer herds.

One claim is that the fallow and axis herds are growing out of control. Two years ago, the park administration told the public the fallow herd was doubling every 6.5 years. A week ago, The Independent Journal quoted the park as now claiming the herd is doubling in four years. The claim, of course, is malarkey, as anyone who regularly drives through the Olema Valley knows.

Accepting for the moment the Neubacher administration’s estimate, there are now 900 fallow deer in the National Seashore, give or take 50 or so. If the herd were really doubling every four years, there would have been only 125 fallow deer in the park when Neubacher became superintendent 12 years ago and stopped the culling. In fact, his predecessor, Supt. John Sansing, had been following a policy of maintaining the fallow and axis herds at roughly 350 deer apiece through culling.

Nor did the axis herd ever recover from that culling. The park says it now numbers only 250 deer. Yet the Neubacher administration also claims the axis herd doubles every 3.5 years. If that were true, there would have been only 16 axis deer left in the park when Neubacher stopped the culling.

The fallow herd is growing, and its size should ultimately be limited, but the rate of growth is hardly out of hand. As Congresswoman Woolsey notes, there is time to find alternatives to eliminating the herds.

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Gentle and curious, fallow deer are easily domesticated. (Photo by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com)

Consider the National Seashore’s claim that the fallow deer are now out-competing native blacktail deer for grass and brush. As most residents will confirm, there are more blacktail deer in West Marin now than at any other time in recent memory.

Why? One reason is that homes have been built up to the edges of the park, creating the sort of non-urban, residential development where blacktails thrive. Studies in the Bay Area have found suburban blacktail deer often live more than twice as long as those in the wild, with does doing fine in territories as small as three or four square blocks.

The park also claims the growth of the fallow herd is forcing it to expand eastward. Wait a minute! The park itself is expanding eastward. The Truttman Ranch, the Beebe Ranch, and the Lupton Ranch, all on the eastern slope of the Olema Valley, have been taken out of agriculture since being acquired by the park. All the residents of Jewell on the eastern edge of the Neubacher administration’s jurisdiction (which includes pieces of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area) have been evicted.

By steadily reducing human activity at the eastern edge of the fallow deer’s long-time range, the park through the years has been unintentionally encouraging the fallow deer to occasionally wander eastward.

So what is really behind the National Seashore administration’s eagerness to eliminate the park’s fallow and axis deer? Protecting blacktail deer, red-legged frogs, or the administration itself? That will be the topic of next week’s posting.