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Contact: John A. Dell’Osso, 415-464-5135
The National Park Service (NPS) announced today the release of the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) Non-Native Deer Management Plan: Protecting the Seashore’s Native Ecosystems, Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS has been developed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Notice of Availability for the FEIS in the Federal Register on August 18, 2006.
This FEIS is an important document for PRNS, setting forth how the park will protect the long-term health of its ecosystems, especially the preservation of native black-tailed deer and tule elk populations. It also meets park objectives for preserving native ecosystems from invasive non-native species. Public involvement has been a key element in the development of the plan over a four-year planning period.
The FEIS documents that the presence of invasive non-native axis and fallow deer is extremely disruptive to the natural ecosystem at PRNS. Some of the more serious effects these non-native deer have at the Seashore include competition with and displacement of native tule elk and black-tailed deer, the potential for transmitting paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease) and exotic lice to native ungulates, damage to riparian and woodland habitats, and indirect impacts to the native wildlife dependent on this habitat. Fallow deer have been documented to cause denudation of significant areas of woodland and riparian areas during the breeding season. They have also been shown to cause trailing, girdling of young trees and trampling of riparian vegetation. Both axis and fallow deer consume the same plant species as native deer and elk. Loss of riparian habitat can affect a number of species at PRNS, including several Threatened or Endangered species, such as California red-legged frog, coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Fallow and axis deer also affect Seashore ranchers by damaging fences and by depredating livestock pastures and supplemental livestock feed.
Recent information from US Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that the presence of these invasive species is greatly suppressing native black-tailed deer, a keystone species at Point Reyes. USGS biologist Dr. Gary Fellers stated, "Non-native deer are causing significant damage to the park’s ecosystems and competition with native black-tailed deer has reduced the native deer population by many hundreds. These impacts will become serious if the non-native deer population continues to grow."
USGS biologist Peter Gogan stated, "At current estimates for both native and non-native deer numbers, for every 1.25 non-native deer present, one native black-tailed deer is lost."
Dr. Sarah Allen, NPS Scientist agrees that, "These two invasive species, if left unchecked, could have serious and significant impacts to the biodiversity of Point Reyes."
One major objective of the plan is to control the spread of these invasive deer beyond park boundaries. Invasive fallow deer are now found outside the park as far away as Woodacre, California, approximately eight miles from the park. Park biologist Dr. Natalie Gates believes, "These two species have been known to double their numbers every 4 to 6 years and axis deer can become pregnant as 4 month old fawns. If action is not taken soon, breeding populations will become established throughout Marin County and beyond. When that happens, control will be impossible and the long-term ecological consequences severe."
The five alternatives presented in the FEIS differ primarily in their approaches to deer population control and in desired future numbers of deer. The NPS preferred alternative (Alternative E) would completely remove both species of non-native deer from the Seashore by 2021 using a combination of long-acting contraceptives and lethal removal. This alternative responds to public comment by using both non-lethal and lethal methods to remove the two invasive species. The park will use contraception on as many females as possible and humanely remove others. NPS will donate meat and hides to non-profit or charity organizations. Issues raised during public scoping were incorporated in the analysis and are discussed in the document. A number of alternatives calling for use of non-lethal control methods alone (such as relocation, fencing and contraception) were considered but dismissed as infeasible or unlikely to achieve the objectives of the plan.
Dr. Paul Curtis, an expert in wildlife contraception from Cornell University commented on the possibility of using contraception alone to resolve the non-native deer issue. He stated, "After more than a decade of research, there is not a single case in North America where I would consider fertility control to be a success for controlling long-term abundance of free-ranging deer."
Dr. Dale McCullough, Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology, University of California, Berkeley stated, "I think the preferred alternative in the plan presents a balanced application of contraception and lethal methods to the exotic deer problem."
At present, there is no drug registered with the Environmental Protection Agency for contraception in deer. The NPS will seek approval for experimental use of one or more promising drugs. The NPS will also conduct a research project on contraception to advance scientific knowledge regarding its potential as a wildlife management tool. Superintendent Don Neubacher stated that "based on our nationwide review of deer management programs and the latest scientific information from a wide variety of experts, our approach seems to be sound. It is the best solution to preserve the incredible diversity of natural resources at Point Reyes National Seashore. We believe the preferred alternative will ensure the park’s ecosystem will remain healthy for future generations."
Axis deer, native to India, and European fallow deer, native to Asia Minor, were both released into the Point Reyes area by a local rancher in the 1940s, before the Seashore was established. Originally, 28 fallow deer and 8 axis deer were purchased from the San Francisco Zoo by the rancher for hunting purposes. The current populations of axis and fallow deer are estimated to be approximately 250 and 860, respectively. Exotic deer ranges, especially for fallow deer, are expanding eastward, towards and beyond Seashore boundaries. Fallow and axis deer are abundant worldwide and are not considered threatened.
The FEIS will be posted on the Point Reyes National Seashore website at http://home.nps.gov/pore/parkmgmt/planning_current.htm. The printed document and digital version on compact disk will also be available for viewing at the park headquarters and local libraries. To spare precious natural resources and costs to the park, we encourage the public to view the plan digitally. However, a limited number of paper copies may be obtained from the Superintendent, Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes, CA 94956 or by email (the email subject line should read "Non-Native Deer FEIS Copy Request").
The official responsible for the final decision on the Non-Native Deer Management Plan/FEIS is the NPS Regional Director of the Pacific West Region. A Record of Decision, describing the selected alternative and project commitments, will be signed by the Regional Director no sooner than 30 days after the listing by the EPA of the FEIS Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. The date of publication of the Notice of Availability in the Federal Register is also posted on the park’s website. Once the Record of Decision is signed, a notice to that effect will be published in the Federal Register and in local newspapers. Following the issuance of the Record of Decision, implementation is the responsibility of the Superintendent, Point Reyes National Seashore.