In order to prevent the cull, Save Our Deer founder Marcy Schwartz, Town of Poughkeepsie resident Doreen Tignanelli, and the group In Defense of Animals (IDA) filed a lawsuit against Vassar College, the City of Poughkeepsie, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Dec. 6.
Jeff Kosmacher, Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs at Vassar, responded to the lawsuit in an emailed statement: “Our goal is a healthy and sustainable environmental balance for the benefit not only of the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve but in consideration of the impact the deer population creates in the larger community,” he wrote. “We take these efforts very seriously, and we believe we are proceeding appropriately under state and local law.”
Despite this, a number of protesters expressed concerns about the legality of the deer cull itself, particularly in regard to local firearms laws. “We did learn soon after [the 2010 cull] that the College had been granted permission to carry out the mass shooting in the City of Poughkeepsie due to a legal error,” said Schwartz. “Under state law, there is an agricultural exemption that you can obtain if you do have a large farm operation and deer is eating your crops. You can get a permit to shoot a few deer. What happened was because [the City Attorney at the time] saw on the application ‘Vassar Farm,’ he actually thought this was a 500-acre agricultural operation, which obviously is not true.”
Within the past two weeks, the City of Poughkeepsie has written to the College, reaffirming that there can be no gunfire within city limits.
In response to these claims, Kosmacher stated that in both 2009 and 2012 Vassar officials met with the appropriate authorities in the City of Poughkeepsie and Town of Poughkeepsie so as to best manage the deer according to Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) rules and regulations. “Each municipality made its own decision about how to proceed based on their relevant laws, regulations, and ordinances,” he stated. “Based upon the City’s most recent determination the upcoming cull will not be conducted within the city limits.”
The deer cull is still scheduled to occur within the roughly half of Vassar Farm that is in the Town of Poughkeepsie.
“If I was still Supervisor, I would very quickly pass a law saying you cannot discharge firearms,” said former Town of Poughkeepsie Supervisor Ann Barcher, a resident since 1948, who opposes the deer cull. “And I can tell you the deer herd in Dutchess County has not yet recovered from the slaughter in 2010. There are not very many of them…they’re very skittish. They hear noise, and they disappear.”
Other local residents are very much in support of the deer cull. Burt Gold ’50 explained why he approves: “The deer are really making it difficult for normal life. Every member of my family has had Lyme disease, and it’s come from deer that are residing on the Farm. So Vassar did the absolute right thing in eliminating deer a couple of years ago. The population has grown back again, and they absolutely, positively should continue with this program.”
Town of Poughkeepsie resident Diane Oktay echoed Gold’s sentiments. “[The deer are] here every day traveling through my yard and there are piles of poop everywhere…They eat bushes, flowers, shrubs, vegetable gardens. They also drop ticks and increase the chance of Lyme disease.”
Students and Poughkeepsie residents against the deer cull argue that culls are not effective, because of a reproductive rebound effect. “Reproductive rebound is when large populations of deer are killed and the deer remaining have access to increased food supply and produce more deer and begin to reproduce at an earlier age. The ones killed are replaced and the size of the herd increases. The cycle is endless,” wrote Tignanelli in an emailed statement.
Additionally, Schwartz noted that at the public information session on Nov. 10, the only animal identified as being adversely affected by the deer population was the migrating ovenbird. She said, “Our indigenous, mammalian, intelligent, affectionate wildlife population is actually more important to most of us than the migrating ovenbird who is not endangered!”
In an emailed statement, Kosmacher added, “By managing the deer population on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, the college is addressing deer impact on the entire ecosystem there, not simply animal species. Our deer enclosure studies show that the overabundance of deer is preventing the establishment of young trees and reducing the diversity of herbaceous plants on the VFEP.”
Kosmacher also noted that alternative options that are suggested by the protesters, such as growing species of plants that are less palatable to deer, spraying deer repellents, giving the deer contraceptives, or building a fence around sensitive areas of the Farm, are not necessarily feasible. Further explanation can be found on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve website.
“In the past three years Vassar professors have worked hard to keep the College informed and actively thinking about this issue,” Kosmacher wrote. “They have closely monitored the latest research findings on deer impacts and population management, monitored developments in state policies, and discussed our circumstances with a wide range of people in the region and further afield.”
The court date for the lawsuit has been set for Dec. 18.