An operation aimed at eliminating a herd of axis deer near Marshall Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore was abruptly halted Monday morning after numerous news organizations learned of the killing and showed up to report on it.

The killing was being carried out by riflemen from a firm called White Buffalo, which the National Seashore hired last year. White Buffalo had planned on using helicopters to herd the axis herd into ravines where they could be gunned down en masse. However, the shooting stopped after 18 deer out of a herd of 80 were killed.

2082275718_842210215e_m1.jpgAxis deer on L Ranch in the Point Reyes National Seashore just before the killing began. (Photo by Trish Carney of San Rafael.)

“It looks like we might have successfully stopped the axis-deer slaughter that was scheduled for early this morning,” a pleased Trinka Marris of Inverness Park said later Monday. Trinka had organized protests this morning on Marshall Road and at the Bear Valley headquarters of the park.

Approximately 20 protesters took part, including representatives of WildCare and In Defense of Animals.

“The park had blocked the roads, and the White Buffalo helicopters were launched, but when our protest showed up at the roadblock [not far from Marshall Beach], with camera and reporter in tow, the word got back to park headquarters,” Trinka recounted.

Hired with grant money, a company called Full Court Press has been getting publicity for the axis and fallow deer’s plight in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Monday evening Trinka told fellow protesters, “Thanks to the remarkable firm that has been hired to help with this campaign, by 10 a.m. the park was crawling with new crews from ABC, NBC, CBS, KTVU, and The Independent Journal.

“By 11 a.m. the helicopters had been put away, the all-terrain vehicles that carry the carcasses were back at maintenance, and the mission had been aborted.”

Today’s protest began at daybreak, and Trinka thanked “the 20 or so dedicated people” who showed up. “It was not easy getting up at 4:30 on a stormy Monday morning, but we did, and I think we bought these beautiful creatures at least one more day of sweet life.”

Earlier today Trinka reminded me that the park has consistently refused to let the public see how the killing is done.

Despite what the park has claimed, “it’s not one bullet to the brain,” Trinka said. If the public could see how brutal the killing actually is, “no one would stand for it.” Indeed, deer hunters in West Marin have complained that many of the deer shot by White Buffalo suffer long, agonizing deaths from “gut wounds.”

White Buffalo is under contract to kill fallow and axis deer in the park through June, at which time the eradication program must be reviewed and a new, one-year contract signed, Trinka said.

Members of Congress and the California Legislature have asked the Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior to at least temporarily stop the killing until it can be thought through better. The National Seashore, however, has responded that under the government’s contract with White Buffalo, it can’t afford to stop.

On Monday, Dr. Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, countered by offering to pay the rest of this year’s contract with White Buffalo. The veterinarian made the offer directly to both White Buffalo during the protest on Marshall Road and to National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher during the protest at park headquarters.

The Neubacher administration has told the public that the main reason for killing off non-native deer in the park is so they won’t compete with the native blacktail deer for forage. Pressed by the press today, however, the park superintendent conceded that White Buffalo’s riflemen sometimes shoot a few native blacktails that are hanging out with the fallow and axis herds.

The park’s claim that there would be more native blacktail deer in the park if the axis and fallow were not eating so much forage is, of course, sheer propaganda. The buildup of brush and dry grass is annually such a problem that the National Seashore regularly conducts controlled burns to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Providing the biggest check on the blacktail population of federal parkland here, as can be seen along Highway 1 from Muir Beach to Marshall, are motorists. Fresh carcasses of deer struck in traffic are daily sights in West Marin. This is hardly surprising now that the National Seashore attracts more than 2.2 million visitors annually, and neighboring Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands, hundreds of thousands more.

Update as of Wednesday evening: Demonstrator Saskia Achilles, who has continued to track the axis-herd eradication, just reported, “All road access is blocked by park rangers in trucks when the hunting is going on, so I have only been able to get close on foot, and not at night, but I see their helicopters in the deer’s valley, and I see nets with a heavy load getting carried by the helicopter….

“Today they stopped again when a media helicopter flew over,” she added, “and resumed right after [it left].”

“It looks to us from the field that they are killing 20 to 30 every night [and] … and that their aim is to have wiped out the entire axis herd by the end of Thursday.”