Refuge to close for 8-day 'mentored deer hunt,' sparking debate by park-goers

Molly Daly
October 07, 2019 - 12:11 pm
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge hunters training

Molly Daly/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum will be closed to the public for part of this week, and for another four-day stretch two weeks later, for what state and federal officials are calling a "mentored archery deer hunt."

Heinz, the nation's first urban wildlife refuge, is an oasis of woods, trails and tidal freshwater marshland, used daily by walkers, birders, photographers, and school groups, among others.

But the temporary closure — this week from Wednesday to Saturday, closed to everyone except groups of 12 hunters and their mentors — has sparked a heated debate on the refuge's Facebook page.

Some view hunting as cruel or dangerous, while others say it's giving an exclusive group priority over the public. 

One thing that's not in dispute: The deer population in the area, estimated at more than 150 per square mile, is about six times too big for the habitat, negatively affecting the other species that depend on it.

"Managing or balancing the deer herd is very important because right here, the top predator in this area of deer would be vehicles," said Derek Stoner, hunter outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The white-tailed deer hunt is part of a push by the Interior Department to open public lands to hunting and fishing.

A diverse group of novice hunters were chosen through a lottery to participate alongside experienced mentors, according to Deputy Refuge Manager Mariana Bergerson. Stoner said the new hunters will be under close supervision.

"That mentor has a regular hunting license, has lots of experience, and they are literally side-by-side with that person," he added. "They're going to have a full course that prepares them for working with a new hunter."

The newbie hunters attended an orientation Sunday, including Jamie from Roxborough. 

"I really like the idea of having local meat," he said, "and also just to have a more connected idea of what it means when you sit down and eat a burger."

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge hunters
Molly Daly/KYW Newsradio

"I spend a lot of time around technology, and I figure it's a good way to get a more natural skill as opposed to just working on computers all the time," added Nile from Southwest Philadelphia.

Still, Facebook users were quick to comment, saying they do not believe it is the best use of the refuge.

Liza Daly believes the hunt at Heinz is a betrayal.

"It's a place where you can go and know that things there are protected," she said. "To violate that kind of public trust at the first urban refuge strikes me as setting a bad tone."

The refuge will be closed for eight days in all — Oct. 9 to 12, and Oct. 23 to 26.