Valley Forge National Historical Park can proceed with its controversial plan to use sharpshooters to radically reduce its deer population, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Calling the imminent plan a looming "bloodbath," animal-rights advocates, who were awaiting the outcome of a suit filed last year, had requested an injunction late Tuesday night to stop it.
But U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg ruled against that suit Wednesday, thus making moot the injunction requested by Friends of Animals and a Chester County group, Compassion for Animals - Respect for the Environment.
Lee Hall, vice president of legal affairs for Friends of Animals, said the groups would appeal the decision.
The hunt was scheduled to begin at an undisclosed time in November. It originally was to start last year, but was delayed after the suit filing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard M. Bernstein, representing the park, said the judge's ruling was vital to the park's future. "It's really important to the integrity of the park to move forward," he said.
The scheduled hunt, in one of the nation's best-known historical venues, has attracted national and international attention and impassioned responses on all sides of the issue.
Park officials say the herd must be reduced because it has become large and destructive, consuming more plants than the park can regenerate and adversely affecting the habitats of other species.
Over four years, the park plans to eliminate over 85 percent of the herd - from more than 1,200 to fewer than 200 - through "sharpshooting, plus capture and euthanasia," the park said.
Under the program, annual shoots would begin in November and end in March. The plan is for federal employees or contractors to fire silencer-equipped rifles, mostly at night, at deer lured to baited areas.
The sharpshooters would aim to kill 500 deer in the first year. Once the herd's numbers are under control, the park would attempt to use birth-control strategies.
In requesting the injunction, the animal-rights advocates had argued that the kill would represent a violent twist in the "deer-human relationship."
"It hurts the heart to know that such beautiful, living, thriving animals will be brutally killed by the people they have trusted all of their lives," the petition said.
Park officials insist they would use "extensive measures to ensure a safe, humane, and successful operation."