PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Deer have taken over Pittsburgh’s major parks and, fed up, are now roaming city streets and people’s backyards in search of viewing gardens.
Take a walk along Shanley Park’s bridle paths and you’re likely to see plenty of deer – stags and even six- and eight-point bucks moving through the woods. No one knows how many deer there are in Shanley. Now the ratings range from 80 to 150. They’re all doing what they do best: eating.
“There will be no trees,” said naturalist Kate St. John.
St. John says the voracious browsers have eaten virtually all of the park’s native vegetation, including new trees vital to its future.
“In the winter, they go through all the branches. So someday it’s going to be a bitter hickory tree, but it’s not going to survive because they keep eating it. It’s going to be like a bonsai,” St. John said.
Virtually all that is left in Shanley are invasive plants such as saltwort and vines that prevent others from growing. St. John says we’re at a crossroads, and the future of city parks and the deer themselves hangs in the balance.
“I don’t know how long it will take for them to eat it to the point where they won’t have anything to eat, but the day will come and they will either die or leave or both,” said St. – John.
This is already happening. Having eaten almost everything you can eat in Shenley, the deer have spread throughout the surrounding areas and can sometimes be seen in broad daylight wandering the streets in peril.
“We get a lot of homicides from cars hitting them and then leaving them on the side of the road until the city comes and picks them up, which is really disgusting,” said Cookie Elbrling of Squirrel Hill.
But most often they come out at night and run into backyards to rummage through people’s gardens and bushes. Michael Dietrich at Squirrel Hill created an aviary to have flowers.
“We wake up every morning and they’re sleeping in the backyard. That’s when we know they’re not happy just living in Shanley Park anymore,” Dietrich said.
Without natural predators and the public will to control, the deer population went unchecked for decades. Pitt professor Walter Carson, who has studied them all this time, says the damage to Shanley and other parks such as Riverview and Frick will be irreversible unless bold action is taken soon, but he believes there is no public appetite to take this.
“You’re going to have to kill a lot of deer, and the only way to do that is to maybe get hired guns to come in, with snipers who don’t give the deer a fair chance, and they’re going to take out a lot,” Carson said.
Sheehan: “There would be a lot of public opposition.”
Carson: “A lot of confrontation. It wouldn’t surprise me if people came out with placards and signs saying, ‘Stop the killing. Killing is never the solution to anything.”
At this time, hunting in city parks is illegal and the city would need to apply to the Game Commission for an exemption and permit. But all this will be the focus of an intense public debate that has yet to begin.