The Cause

The Fairmount Park Deer Report
by Bridget W. Irons, Archival Specialist

1993 – Dr. Sam Tucker, a medical professional and chairman of the Wildlife Committee under Friends of the Wissahickon spoke of “anecdotal evidence suggesting a significant overpopulation of deer in the 1,841 acre Wissahickon Valley Park and neighboring properties…”

June, 1994 – Council of the City of Philadelphia Public Hearing to examine the effects of Philadelphia’s increased deer population and to explore solutions to this problem.  Councilwoman Joan Specter called on council…  Resolution approved on February 10…

Spring, 1994 – Natural Resource Consultants, Inc. was contacted to evaluate the deer in the park after Friends of the Wissahickon authorized a scientific deer survey.  Bryon P. Shissler is a Certified Wildlife Biologist and President of NRC, Inc. Certain consultants on deer are chosen because they’re likely to recommend lethal action.

1996 – An aerial survey observed 159 deer in the park with snow cover and good deer visual contrast.  Final report – Development of Deer Management Recommendations for the Wissahickon Valley, Philadelphia, PA.  No scientific scrutiny/peer review.  It reveals much speculation and lack of knowledge. It’s also limited in scope.  It was designed to blame the deer.  It claims that nonlethal remedies will not work, thus hastening the decision to kill the deer.  It was the basis for killing the deer.  One section of the report, “White-tailed Deer Ecology as it Relates to Decision Making in the Wissahickon Valley,” got the attention of Ecology Professor Tom Eveland. He noted “poor knowledge.”  The primary method suggested in the report for deer control within the park was a permit from the PA Game Commission. The report stated, “There is every reason to believe that the deer herd in Wissahickon Park could be reduced to goal within several  months,”page 171.  The park’s goal all along has been 30 deer.

April, 1998 – Friends of the Wissahickon voted to cull the deer and ask the Fairmount Park Commission to apply for a special use permit from the state game commission to hire personnel for this purpose.

Summer, 1998 – Public testimony before the Fairmount Park Commission on June 24 and July 28

September, 1998 – The Fairmount Park Commission approved a cull of the deer.  Commissioners James Bloom and Mary Mason voted against it. Anthony J. DeNicola of White Buffalo, Inc. was selected for the project.

Three thousand petition signatures delivered to Mayor Ed Rendell’s officeat City Hall

1999 – A number of legal actions: lawsuit, injunction, hearings, rulings (Common Pleas and Commonwealth Courts)

February 3, 1999 – Article in The Review – one-time only culling of the herd

March, 1999 – Cull began – late start.  Forty-three deer reported killed in 2 days at $220.00 per deer.  Total amount paid to Anthony DeNicola was $9460.00 in 1999.

2000 – DeNicola returned.  Due to reported interference, there were no deer killed according to park officials.  Payment to DeNicola for year 2000 was $3,000.00.

February 9, 2001 – Phila. Inq. Fairmount Park Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss sharpshooters in Pennypack Park.

March 15, 2001 – Lawsuit filed following protests at both Mifflin’s and Bessler’s homes

2001 through 2012 – United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services took over the project.

Total Number of Deer Reported Killed in Fairmount Park from March 1999 through March 2012 is Wissahickon Park – 872, Pennypack Park – 1,290, WestPark – 159, Cobbs Creek Park – 12.    Overall total is 2,333 deer reported killed in Fairmount Park from March 1999 through March 2012.


Year 1999 – Wiss. 43
Year 2000 – Wiss. 0
Year 2001 – Wiss. 177, Pennypk. 252
Year 2002 – Wiss. 177, Pennypk. 335
Year 2003 – Wiss. 46, Pennypk. 64
Year 2004 – Wiss. 81, Pennypk. 80
Year 2005 – Wiss. 42, Pennypk. 84
Year 2006 – Wiss. 29, Pennypk. 92
Year 2007 – Wiss. 62, Pennypk. 62, West Park, 56
Year 2008 – Wiss. 45, Pennypk. 71, West Park 37
Year 2009 – Wiss. 35, Pennypk. 74, West Park 16
Year 2010 – Wiss. 44, Pennypk. 79, West Park 21, Cobbs Creek 12
Year 2011 – Wiss. 35, Pennypk. 37, West Park 11
Year 2012 – Wiss. 56, Pennypk. 60, West Park 18

USDA Charges for Deer Management from January 2001 through March 2011 is $265,034.88. Charges for most recent cull are not yet available.

Right to Know Request denied regarding costs to the City of Philadelphia for providing city workers who were responsible for equipment, supplies, support materials, transportation of deer for processing, assisting with surveys, removal operation, driving the vehicles during the project, spotlighting, dragging deer, collecting data, baiting and assisting with the overall safety of the project.  Philadelphia’s police aviation unit was used during the project (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30,1999).  According to the City of Philadelphia Law Department, there’s no public record to account for the cost of providing city workers for this purpose.


Before a shot was ever fired in the Wissahickon, Barry Bessler, then chief-of-staff (FPC) and point person on the deer issue testified under oath that the plan would maintain a safety zone of 150 yards from private property.  He continued saying that the shooters would exceed that by at least 100 yards in all cases and in most of the cases exceed that by 4 to 5 or 6 hundred yards( Court of Common Pleas transcript, March 19, 1999, page 44).

Now the USDA is permitted to discharge high power rifles from public roads in residential neighborhoods, according to Mr. Bessler.  I’ve witnessed their doing so.  I’m not the only one.  Was this change sanctioned?  Did the change require public notification?