22 August 2022
Back in 2010 the City of Pittsburgh commissioned a deer count in the parks that found the population was too high and not sustainable for the habitat. Nothing has been done since then to reduce the deer population other than accidentally killing them with our cars.
Twelve years have passed. According to deer experts “Urban deer can live for 10 years; the deer population, if unchecked, doubles about every two years.” Schenley Park now has as much as 60 times the number of deer we had in 2010. This is truly unsustainable, even for the deer themselves.
Schenley’s deer have completely consumed all the good food plants and are starting to nibble the poisonous ones. The browse line is painfully obvious. In the process deer have eradicated their favorite plants from Schenley Park.
Orange (Impatiens capensis) & Yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida)
Orange jewelweed and yellow jewelweed provide nectar for hummingbirds and bumblebees and are a favored food of deer.
Both jewelweeds were prolific in Schenley Park as recently as four years ago.
But this year all the accessible plants have been eaten down to bare stems. The only ones that flower are those in spots unreachable by deer — on extremely steep slopes or hidden among thick cattails in Panther Hollow Lake.
Jewelweeds are annuals that must re-seed every year but no seeds are produced in this deer-browsed landscape. Impatiens will disappear from Schenley Park when the seed bank is exhausted.
False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
False Solomon’s seal used to grow throughout Schenley Park and it carpeted the ground in an area near the Bridle Trail. All of it has been eaten to the ground since 2014. Here’s what it looked like eight years ago.
White wood asters (Eurybia divaricata)
White wood asters used to bloom in Schenley’s woods. Not anymore. Here’s what they looked like in 2013.
Eradicated plants are indirect evidence of too many deer in Schenley Park. Direct evidence is their visibility every day.
A sustainably-sized deer herd would hide in the underbrush while sleeping during the day, but the browse line in Schenley is so severe there is no cover for them. The large herd has coped by becoming accustomed to people and leashed dogs.
I stood near this group of three deer on Sunday 21 August using my snapshot camera zoomed to 90mm (approximately 2x). This 8-point buck did not care that I was there.
(photos by Kate St. John)
UPDATE: I was interviewed by Andy Sheehan, KDKA News, 25 August 2022. Click on this link or on the image below. Experts warn deer are destroying Pittsburgh’s parks and moving into neighborhoods.
Three articles, 2017-2019, about deer in Allegheny County by John Hayes, Post-Gazette: