A winter-long whitetail hunt ready to begin in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area was stopped by court order Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman granted a request for a preliminary injunction, saying neighbors of the Ohio preserve and national animal rights organizations showed there would be irreparable harm if the hunt proceeded before their full case was heard.
Their civil suit complained that the park service decided to shoot the animals without producing all the required scientific support.
In some areas, the judge agreed, the government "made no case whatsoever" to back up the conclusion that it was not necessary to produce a full environmental impact statement.
Environmental impact statements are comprehensive, voluminous documents that evaluate many aspects of a proposed government action.
The park did an environmental assessment and concluded that there was no reason to go through the additional, lengthy process before putting a deer-control plan in motion.
The judge examined the environmental assessment and the full supporting record submitted by the government and decided there had been omissions. "It has some gaps in not discussing things that are relevant and required," he said.
The first national park to put a deer-killing plan in motion, Gettysburg National Military Park, did conduct an environmental impact statement for its site before proceeding. Deer were killed there over two winters, but further hunts were put on hold by a lawsuit delving into other issues filed by the same people pressing the Cuyahoga case.
John Debo Jr., superintendent of the recreation area, said park service sharpshooters had been scheduled to start thinning the excessive deer population beginning at 5 p.m.
The goal was to kill about 470 of the park's estimated 1,030 deer to protect plants eaten by other kinds of animals, prevent over-grazing of the park's flora, diminish complaints of landscape damage by the park's neighbors, and reduce accidents caused when deer wander into traffic.
The park service made no immediate decision about appealing the injunction, which had been sought by the Humane Society of the United States, Fund for Animals, Animal Production Institute, In Defense of Deer and others.