Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why is the College planning to conduct a deer cull?
Response: Swarthmore College has been studying the long term effects of an overabundance of deer since 2001 when it commissioned Natural Lands Trust and Continental Conservation to prepare a Conservation and Stewardship Plan to secure the long-term viability of the woods and identify any potential risks or hazards. That report, published in 2003, concluded that the effect of overpopulation of deer in the woods was "profound." Further research done by Natural Resource Consultants Inc. (NRC Inc.) and an aerial infrared deer count supported the conclusion that managing the deer population was a priority for maintaining a healthy ecosystem in Crum Woods. Additionally, there is a long-term ecological research project being conducted in the woods by Swarthmore students and faculty which furthers our understanding of the impact that the deer are having.
Question: What type of long-term damage is being done to the woods by the deer?
Response: Excessive deer browsing is severely limiting the ability of the forest to regenerate naturally and altering the structure and composition of the forest. For example, deer are consuming nearly all of the native oak saplings. As old oak trees age and die, there are few younger trees left to grow and fill in the canopy, and to provide habitat for other animals. Non-native plant species that are not part of the natural deer diet are replacing the native species in the woods.
Swarthmore College and the Scott Arboretum have actively engaged in invasive plant remediation, and have planted native species in the Crum Woods. The College has also pursued grants to support the management of the Crum Woods. Unfortunately, the overabundant deer population has impacted these initiatives.
Question: What is being done to monitor the results of deer population management measures?
Response: Extensive efforts are underway to measure the effect of the diminished deer population on the health and vitality of the overall forest ecosystem. A research-based monitoring program, designed and implemented by Roger Latham of Continental Conservation (and former Swarthmore biology professor), is assessing the forest ecosystem's response to the reduced number of deer in the woods. This research primarily studies the health and number of plants in the woods with a focus on the native species that deer are most likely to consume.
In spring 2010 five research areas were established in the Crum Woods. Each site consists of two plots, each measuring 15 meters by 15 meters, with one plot fenced in and the other open to deer browse. Data are being compiled at these sites regarding: approximate percent cover of each plant species; stem counts, height distributions and fecundity indices of selected native plant species; index of shrub and herbaceous layer density; approximate percent canopy cover; relative population density estimates for the red-backed salamander (a species that depends on the protection of a healthy native plant canopy for survival); and survival and height of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that were planted in each plot.
Question: What about other options, particularly birth control?
Response: Many options, including contraception, were considered by the Committee, and the consultants at NRC Inc. Contraception is experimental in nature and has not been shown to be an effective tool for managing free-ranging deer populations such as those inhabiting the Crum Woods. It is very difficult to reduce reproduction in the population to a level that will enable the woods to naturally regenerate, even allowing for the extended time required for contraceptive measures to take effect. Typical deer life span in the wild is 18 years, and contraceptive methods lead to a very slow decline in the population, perhaps requiring a decade to have a noticeable impact. NRC Inc. concluded that the only viable, and most humane, effective and socially responsible option for effectively reducing the population of deer in the woods would be to hire a sharpshooter to euthanize deer. Other nearby communities that have recently adopted this deer cull technique include the Wissahickon Valley, Pennypack and West Fairmount parks. The College remains open to considering alternative methods for balancing deer impacts with the interests of the other plants and animals that make up the forest as new options become available.
Question: If we reduce the deer population in our area, won't more deer just come in from other places?
Response: No, because deer, especially the females, which are the group targeted for most efficient population control, actually have a fairly small home range that they rarely leave.
Question: What will happen to the deer carcasses after a cull?
Response: Deer meat will be donated to local groups feeding those in need.
Question: What safety precautions will be taken to make sure no humans or pets are put at risk from the deer cull?
Response: Culls will be carried out by licensed professionals at pre-approved sites and take place during times when traffic in the Crum Woods is reduced. Human safety is ensured by shooting only when there is a clear line of vision and by using a backstop that is provided by the shooter's relative elevation.
Question: What is the length of the College's cull of the deer population and why?
Response: The College receives permission from the Pennsylvania State Game Commission to cull its deer population from December through March. The College utilizes the full length of its requested culling period to meet wildlife control recommendations which call for spacing culling activities 10 to 14 days apart.
Question: How will these control efforts affect deer population throughout Swarthmore Borough?
Response: These efforts will not have much impact on the deer population throughout the rest of the Borough.
Deer tend to remain within a relatively small home territory. The portion of the local deer population that browse both in the Borough and in the Crum Woods will be affected by population control measures in the Woods, though not all deer present in the Borough include the Crum Woods in their home territory.
Since deer are inclined to remain in their specific home territory, it is unlikely that a decreased population in the Crum Woods will draw deer out of the Borough and into the woods after a cull.
Question: How large is the current deer population in the Crum Woods?
Response: In December 2005 the College conducted an aerial infrared deer count of the habitat in and around the area of the Crum Woods. That count estimated a minimum of 29 deer per square mile. Based on the imperfect science of aerial infrared counts, this estimate likely represents between 40% and 60% of the actual number of deer in the woods.
Question: How many deer need to be removed from the Crum Woods?
Response: The primary goal of this undertaking is to restore the woods to health. There is no way to calculate exactly how many deer need to be removed from the ecosystem in order to return the Woods to a more natural state of regeneration. The College will work closely with a contractor to establish an approach that will work best for the Woods habitat. Additionally, the College will closely monitor the state of the woods to determine the effectiveness of the population control measures. Experimental plots with planted vegetation will serve as one way to gauge the effectiveness of the deer population control measures.
Question: How many years of control will be necessary?
Response: Given that no natural predators remain in the Woods to effectively manage the population without human intervention, deer population control measures will be ongoing. The College will remain open to considering alternative methods for balancing deer impacts with the interests of the other plants and animals that make up the forest as new options become available.
Question: Why are Swarthmore Borough and Nether Providence Township involved?
Response: The Crum Woods property falls within both Swarthmore Borough and Nether Providence Township. Exceptions to local firearms ordinances were needed in both Swarthmore and Nether Providence in order to conduct a cull. The local government in both the borough and township have approved limited exceptions to their ordinances which will allow the College to proceed.
Question: Why will the College conduct a hunt in conjunction with the cull?
Answer: In the spring of 2009 the Pennsylvania State Game Commission approved regulations that require all private landholders and municipalities to allow hunting in conjunction with any cull. The College will select the archers, require that they use tree stands, establish where in the woods they may hunt, and limit the number of archers and the days and times which they may hunt.
Question: When did the College decide to take this action?
Response: Swarthmore College has been studying the long term effects of an overabundance of deer since 2001 when it commissioned Natural Lands Trust and Continental Conservation to prepare a Conservation and Stewardship Plan to secure the long-term viability of the woods and identify any potential risks or hazards. After careful study of the woods, consideration of a wide range of deer population management options, and engagement with the community on this issue the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee recommended that the College conduct a cull. In April 2008 the College accepted this recommendation.
Here is a timeline of events:
- 2001 the College commissioned Natural Lands Trust and Continental Conservation to prepare a Conservation and Stewardship Plan for the Crum Woods
- December 2003, the Conservation and Stewardship Plan for the Crum Woods was published.
- May 2004, a public meeting was held to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Conservation and Stewardship Plan.
- November 2005, an aerial infrared deer count was conducted in and around the woods.
- April 2006, a public forum was held on campus to discuss possible long-term strategies for dealing with the deer population.
- March 2007, Natural Resource Consultants, Inc. issued a Deer Management Plan for the Crum Woods.
- April 2007, a public meeting was held to discuss the recommendations of the Deer Management Plan for the Crum Woods.
- December 2007, the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee's recommendation to proceed with a deer cull was heard by members of senior staff and by the Board of Managers.
- February 2008, meetings were held with faculty, staff, and students to discuss the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee's recommendation to proceed with a cull.
- April 2008 the College accepted the recommendation to conduct a cull.
- April 2009, meetings were held with the community to discuss a change in the the Pennsylvania State Game Commission regulations that require a hunt to be conducted in conjunction with a cull.
- November 2009, the Pennsylvania State Game Commission approved the College's request for a permit to conduct a cull in the Crum Woods.
- Fall/Winter 2009, an archery hunt and cull were conducted in the woods.
- Spring 2010, scientific research designed to measure the impact of deer population management on the health of the woods begins.
- November 2010, the Pennsylvania State Game Commission approved the College's request for a permit to conduct a cull in the Crum Woods.