Nearly 2,200 days have passed and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park still is working on a report about how to manage white-tailed deer.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the park’s first public meeting on the issue. The Departed with Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon was a top movie; CSI, Grey’s Anatomy and House were among the top television shows; Bob Taft was governor; and George W. Bush was in the White House.
A total of 45 people attended the Cuyahoga Valley’s first deer meeting on Oct. 11, 2006, at what’s now called the Happy Days Lodge in Boston Heights. Additional sessions were held the following day.
Those meetings kicked off a detailed study of the deer and what might be done to control their numbers in the 33,000-acre federal park between Akron and Cleveland. The problem was described as “high deer densities” that were hurting plants and other animals.
At the time, officials said the study, including the likely conclusion of sharpshooters killing deer, should be completed by mid-2008.
Now more than four years past that target date, the study, called an Environmental Impact Statement, remains incomplete, said Lisa Petit, chief of resource management for the park.
“Never did I think it would take this long,” she said. “Yes, this report has taken a long time — a very long time.”
A draft version of the report is due to be released for public review and comment in late 2012, or more likely, early 2013, Petit said. She declined to predict what the preferred alternative might be when the draft report is completed.
“It’s hard to believe that it has been six years, and they’re still not done,” said Matt Kerscher of Stow, who attended the first meeting in 2006. “Obviously, it has not been a top priority.”
Petit said the preliminary report will total 350 to 400 pages. Its release will be followed by a 60-day public review period. The report then will be revised and finalized, taking the process into next summer or fall, she said.
Cuyahoga Valley staffers and a team member in the park service’s Washington headquarters have reviewed the initial report.
“We’re still moving,” Petit said. “We’re coming. We’re bringing it ... It’s an issue we’re still anxious to get resolved. It has just taken a long time, a very long time.”
Cuyahoga Valley officials began serious analysis of deer and their affect on the park in 1997. Petit said the study is taking a little longer than similar studies at other units of the National Park System.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore worked on its now-completed report for nearly as long as Cuyahoga Valley, she said.
Only seven other national park units have adopted policies on dealing with deer and elk: Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg National Military Park and Valley Forge National Historic Park; Morristown National Historic Park in New Jersey; Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia; Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; and Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
“We’ve had to look at alternatives and weigh the feasibility of options,” Petit said. “A lot of assessment and reassessment has gone into this study. A lot of different factors had to be considered. It’s a complex problem, and deciding what to do has not been easy. ... It has been a changing and evolving and developing target.”
The study also is taking longer because the park intends to produce a document that could serve as a legal basis for perhaps shooting deer, Petit said.
In 1997, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled that Cuyahoga Valley officials did not produce sufficient evidence to support a plan to use sharpshooters to kill up to 470 deer in the park. He sided with a coalition of animal-rights groups that opposed the plan and filed a lawsuit to block it.
“Putting together a science-based and legal-based document has not been easy,” Petit said. “It has taken some extra work to address the issues and to develop a legally and ecologically sustaining program.”
Far in excess
Too many deer in the park and their effect on the park’s biodiversity remain problems in the Cuyahoga Valley, Petit said. Deer concentrations have been reported at 50 to 130 animals per square mile, far in excess of the recommended level of 20 deer per square mile.
The latest data show the deer numbers in the federal park have declined slightly, due largely to sharpshooters killing deer in neighboring Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, and Cleveland Metroparks, Petit said.
In Summit County, sharpshooters have killed 1,630 deer since 2004; in Cuyahoga County, sharpshooters have killed 4,530 deer since 1999.
“Our numbers are slightly downward, but they are still too high,” Petit said. “The numbers are still above the environmental capacity of the ecosystem.”
Stow’s Kerscher said he would like to see the Cuyahoga Valley National Park opened to bow hunters. He said that move safely could reduce deer numbers.
Park officials, however, repeatedly have rejected this option because of safety and liability concerns.
The fact Cuyahoga Valley officials have not made a decision on the deer issue after six years is “pretty shocking,” Kerscher said.
“It is time for the park to make a decision or drop the whole thing,” he said. “It’s time to cut through the red tape and the bureaucracy. ... Deer are still a problem. Deal with it.”
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.