The deer population at Valley Forge National Historical Park has been reduced significantly.

As part of a controversial culling operation, U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters killed 225 deer in November, Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said today.

That's about 18 percent of the park's estimated population.

"I think the operation is going well," said Kristina Heister, the park's natural-resource manager, adding that 6,900 pounds of venison have been donated to the needy. "It has been safe, and it has been humane, and it's been effective."

The cull, in which deer are lured to baited areas and shot, is "reprehensible," said Lee Hall, vice president for legal affairs for Friends of Animals.

The group is appealing a judge's decision that allowed the cull to proceed. "It certainly goes against the history and the peace of the park."

The park service says the killings are necessary because the Valley Forge deer population has jumped eightfold - to about 1,275 - in the last 25 years.

Deer and their hearty appetites are endangering thousands of acres of forest and destroying habitats of other species, including ground-nesting birds, said Heister.

Hall countered that the deer numbers have stabilized in recent years and that the park service has failed to consider natural controls, such as "enhancing" the Valley Forge coyote population.

The Friends group opposes coyote-hunting and says that if it ended in Pennsylvania, coyote numbers eventually would increase inside the park.

Valley Forge managers counter that they've thoroughly examined other strategies and that they need to act urgently.

The 15-year plan, which could cost up to $2.9 million, aims to reduce the population to the 1985 level of under 200.

It calls for U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters to kill about 1,000 deer over the next two years, and lesser numbers the following two years. The park has been ultra-secretive about the shooting schedule, saying only that they would take place between November and March.

Heister would not even disclose the dates of the November shoots, only that they occurred in "one week." After four years of shootings, Valley Forge would try to limit the population with chemical birth-control agents if an "effective" one became available.

Hall said the Park plan to eliminate deer is "unethical.

"The ethical thing would be to respect their birthright. This is where they come from, this is where they born. They belong there."

Contact Anthony R. Wood at 610-313-8210 or twood@phillynews.com