Wed 1 Aug 2007
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.
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.”
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.
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.