Vassar Animal Rights Coalition strives to stop deer cull

Members of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) held a community meeting to discuss Vassar’s annual deer cull on April 28. VARC strongly advocates for the cull to stop. / Courtesy of VARC via Facebook

On Thursday, April 9, student activists affiliated with the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) met in the Jade Parlor to discuss the deer culls that have been conducted by the Vassar administration in recent years. The meeting was led by VARC co-president and publicity manager Brooke Thomas ’17 and founder of the local Save Our Deer activist group Marcy Schwartz.

On Thursday, April 9, student activists affiliated with the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) met in the Jade Parlor to discuss the deer culls that have been conducted by the Vassar administration in recent years. The meeting was led by VARC co-president and publicity manager Brooke Thomas ’17 and founder of the local Save Our Deer activist group Marcy Schwartz.

Vassar first decided to conduct a deer cull in 2010. Subsequent culls occurred in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. In each instance, deer are baited to the 527-acre Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve (VFEP), where a team of sharpshooters await to kill the deer. Opponents of the cull consider this an unnecessarily violent option and point to several alternatives, such as immune-contraceptive or trap-and-release neutering projects.

According to the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve website, “The college has seen that overabundant deer prevent the establishment of young trees and reduce plant diversity in the forests of the VFEP.” The website cites threats to biodiversity caused by deer overpopulation as the main reason for the culls. “The overpopulation is dramatically altering the entire forest structure of the VFEP,” according to their website, which estimates that there are 26 deer per square mile on the preserve, greater than their stated optimal range of a density between 10 and 20 per square mile. The VFEP provides no source for this optimal density (Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, “Answers to Common Questions about the Deer Management Program for the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve”).

Opponents of the cull also emphasize the apparent lack of science behind Vassar’s efforts to kill large numbers of deer on Vassar Farm. “We’re not anti-science,” Thomas said. “Vassar as an institution has an obligation to explore experimental and alternative science to deal with the problem.”

Thomas commented that there are several locations where alternative methods of population control have been employed. The Parks Department of Staten Island, for instance, recently unveiled a plan to sterilize male deer to reduce the population. According to a May 2016 SI Live article, “The city ultimately decided to only use lethal methods as a last resort because of pushback during public outreach. Non-lethal controls might also be more feasible … The city will also install fences, guards and plantings to protect wildlife from hungry and destructive deer” (SILive.com, “Sterilize Staten Island’s male deer: City unveils plan to cut the herd,” 05.12.2016).

Thomas and her associates wonder why more humane methods aren’t being considered at Vassar. They also pose questions regarding the legality of the cull. In 2012, Schwartz, along with then-Vassar student Rocky Schwartz ’15, filed a lawsuit against Vassar College for violating the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which would require Vassar to prepare an environmental impact statement and submit it for approval to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The plaintiffs also argued that the cull violated local gunfire ordinances, which prohibit the discharge of firearms in the City of Poughkeepsie, where part of the VFEP lies.

The case, however, was dismissed by the New York Supreme Court in 2012. The court’s decision cites evidence that the Department of Environmental Conservation issued a nuisance deer permit to Vassar College, which authorizes the taking of up to 62 deer. The decision was upheld in the appellate court.

The cull’s opponents, however, feel the decision holds Vassar above the law. They believe that if Vassar was an ordinary private property owner, rather than one with significant economic and political influence, the culls would not be allowed to happen. In a January 2015 USA Today article regarding the Court’s decision, Schultz is quoted as saying, “The city’s and town’s efforts to allow Vassar College to violate local law is all the more offensive, considering that the specific ordinances at issue are specifically intended to protect the safety and health of the public.” (USA Today, “Judge clears way for Vassar deer cull,” 01.23.2015).

Schwartz, along with Kaden Maguire ’16, penned an opinion piece in The Miscellany News around the same time. Titled “Town officials bend to college’s interests with deer cull,” the article references a decision made by the New York Supreme Court to prohibit Binghamton University from culling deer on their property in 2012. Despite receiving a Department of Environmental Conservation Permit, the Court required the University to prepare an environmental impact statement in compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

“Both the Town and City of Poughkeepsie have catered to Vassar’s supposed needs, at the expense of public health and safety,” wrote Maguire and Schwartz in their 2015 opinion piece. “It should come as no surprise that Vassar College is privileged within and by Poughkeepsie … Vassar has chosen to actively ignore the voices of Poughkeepsie residents who do not want rifles in their neighborhood and has influenced the local police, such that they are not only failing to enforce their own laws but actually dispensing staff to aid in Vassar’s killings.”

They continued, “As members of the Vassar community, we must challenge the too-powerful role our school has assumed and find non-violent alternatives to killing” (The Miscellany News, “Both the Town and City of Poughkeepsie have catered to Vassar’s supposed needs, at the expense of public health and safety,” 01.28.2015).

Thomas echoed these sentiments. “It’s important to question authority,” she said. “We should be trying to figure out if those with authority are doing the right thing.”

While ethically opposed to the cull, Thomas also is concerned that conducting the culls isn’t what’s best for Vassar. Seeing them as potentially dangerous and unnecessarily costly, Thomas worries that the administration is standing behind their decision to cull deer for the wrong reasons. “It seems like they don’t want to admit they were wrong,” she said. “That’s also why they’re not letting any dissent seem like a big deal.”

Thomas and other activists are hopeful that they will make progress in light of the inauguration of Vassar’s incoming president, Elizabeth Bradley. Relations between Save Our Deer and the Vassar administration haven’t been so great in the past, but members of VARC hope to remedy the situation. The activists see Bradley’s presidency as an opportunity to get the administration to see the culls in a new light. “There needs to be some sort of transition,” Thomas said, adding that if activists can work with the new administration, their goal of stopping the killings would certainly be a lot easier.

45 Comments

      • Hey Kent, thank for the links. I’m on the run and didn’t have time to review them; however, I’ve studied this issue. Actually, there are no consistent studies of deer density that can be applied to all locations. All scenarios are different, and so there are no deer density estimates to apply across the board.

        Wildlife agencies like the DEC typically give out made up deer density ranges to suburban communities as a measure to justify a deer killing program. If you look at every state, they all seem to use different ranges. And of course, none of them are science based or apply to a suburban community. Any studies that have been done have been done in specific forest areas and not suburban communities, and so aren’t even relevant.

        In addition, most deer density ranges presented are subjective social carrying capacity vs. biological carrying capacity. Of course, seeing one deer is too many deer for some residents.

  1. A Vassar neighbor who has discussed "the deer problem" with college administration for years before the cull even started says:

    I am a neighbor of Vassar College and have lived in the community for more than 30 years. The deer that nest on college property wander through nearby private property and have done thousands of dollars of property damage to my home. This is of course in addition to the damage they do to “The Farm”. My neighbors uniformly have the same complaint. My attorney has advised me that I could easily successfully sue the college for damage for “harboring destructive vermin” but the cost of the suit would be greater than the money I would recover and I’d have to do it every year. I find the organization name “Save Our Deer” offensive. If these pests (one of my neighbors calls them “rats with hooves”) are YOUR deer, kindly buy land on which to keep them, fence YOUR land to keep YOUR deer from damaging anyone else’s property, and capture and transport YOUR deer to this preserve of yours so that they cease to damage my property, my neighbors’ property, and those parts of the college’s property that the college wishes to protect.

    • It’ sad to hear comments like this, especially when the deer are indigenous species who, according to nature, belong here in the Northeastern US more than we humans do, who have carved up their habitat and given them few alternatives to living in our backyards. Please recognize that descriptions of our fellow sentient animals as “pests” and “vermin” are largely defenses one puts up to protect themselves from taking responsibility for irrational, murderous thoughts towards defenseless others. Deep down, I’m sure you know it is morally wrong to kill a sentient animal — somebody’s mother or sister or friend — just because you are angry your ornamental plants got eaten. Consider that Hitler labeled Jews the same thing. Of course, this kind of labeling is easily recognizable as dangerous when describing our fellow humans as a justification for rounding them up and killing them (I am Jewish, by the way, with relatives who were killed by Hitler, so this way of thinking about the inconvenient “other” feels very familiar to me).

      Every conflict provides an opportunity to come up with a creative solution. Violence begets violence. You may not think so, but children are observing how the community addresses its conflicts, and the seeds of violence will germinate in time. Alternatively, compassion begets compassion. Who doesn’t feel good when they hear about a situation that might have ended in violence, but instead the community came together and found a wonderful way to overcome the conflict peacefully, and that they did so through sheer human ingenuity fueled by their determination to be kind toward others. I urge you to consider looking at this situation through fresh eyes and to reach for your deeper humanity.

      • A Vassar neighbor who has discussed "the deer problem" with college administration for years before the cull even started says:

        “Love”, you have a very loose definition of “sentient”. Are rats, which can learn to run a maze, any more or less sentient than deer (or any other NYS DEC “nuisance animal”)? Would you advocate a “live and let live” or “compassionate” treatment of rats? (Speaking of rats BTW, this discussion had not yet veered to deer’s role in spreading Lyme disease in communities like Poughkeepsie. Both I and other members of my family have suffered from Lyme.) I plead “not guilty” to being in any way “defensive”. If it was not prohibited by New York State to discharge a firearm or bow in a residential area, I would gladly take “responsibility” not only for my “murderous thoughts towards defenseless” deer but also for my “murderous” actions. “Pest control” is pest control. Both “deep down” and at the surface, I BELIEVE (this is an opinion and value disagreement that has little to do with KNOWLEDGE) there is nothing “morally wrong to kill a” destructive DUMB animal. These vermin (or varmints) are nobody’s “mother or sister or friend”. That distinction is in my value system reserved for humans. And in a metaphor of the fictional Corleone family, this is not because I am “angry” that my LANDSCAPING (not ornamental) plants got eaten. This is business. Also in my value system, comparing me and “my” deer to Hitler and Jews is just bulls–t. I’ll repeat my previous suggestion which I don’t expect any of the deer “advocates” to take up. If you “love” these creatures so much, come get them and take them “somewhere safe”. You had eleven months each year (twelve in the years there is no cull) to “put your money where your mouth is”.

        • DEER AND LYME DISEASE – THE FACTS

          The blacklegged tick that transmits Lyme disease feeds on approximately 27 species of mammal and 70 species of birds. The bacteria is passed through the bite of a tick. But deer do not get Lyme disease nor do they pass it along. Rodents, on the other hand, particularly the white-footed mouse, do contract the disease and pass it along to other ticks that feed on them. Rodents are called “reservoir hosts” for this reason. Deer are not reservoir hosts, they are called “dilution hosts” because, even though a tick can feed on a deer, as one of the many mammals offering blood meals to ticks, the disease is not spread through the deer-tick relationship.

          A landmark book published by Oxford University Press called, “Lyme Disease, The Ecology of a Complex System” by Dr. Richard Ostfeld, analyzed and synthesized just about every study to date on this topic. Well over 100 studies are examined in the book, and the conclusion is crystal clear and accessible to the general public: There is little to no correlation between deer and Lyme disease. According to the book, only about 30 percent of ticks are infected with Lyme disease. Four small mammals (including white-footed mice) host 50% of the ticks, but account for 90% of infected ticks. That means that all the other possible hosts account for only 10% of infected ticks. There are, in fact, no credible (peer reviewed) studies that correlate a reduction in deer numbers with a reduction in Lyme disease.

          “I am a research scientist who has devoted much of the past twenty years to understanding the ecology of Lyme disease, and other tick-borne infections. A comprehensive review of all the scientific literature on the relationship between numbers of deer and numbers of ticks reveals that the majority of studies find no statistical correlation at all. The lack of a correlation derives from the following facts: (1) deer do not infect ticks with Lyme bacteria, and actually reduce the infection prevalence in tick populations; (2) adult black legged ticks feed on at least 27 different species of mammals and are not specialists on white-tailed deer; (3) when deer populations are culled, ticks crowd onto the remaining deer, resulting in similar total numbers of tick meals; and (4) even when deer affect the number of eggs laid by adult ticks and resulting abundance of larvae, numbers of larvae do not predict numbers of nymphs (nymphs are responsible for transmitting Lyme disease to people). Moreover, although mention is made of deer thresholds in the non-peer-reviewed literature, no scientific data support the existence of a deer density threshold below which ticks decline to low numbers. Scientific literature on which my statements are based can be found in the book cited above.” (Dr. Richard Ostfeld, Senior Scientist, The Cary Institute)

          In addition, recent work by Dr. Tamara Awerbuch of the Harvard School of Public Health, confirms that deer are not the culprit for Lyme disease but in fact it is the white-footed mouse (“Killing Deer Not the Answer to Reducing Lyme Disease”, Says HSPH Scientist” interview dated 11/23/10). Dr. Awerbuch states that, “There is NO linear correlation between killing deer and the tick population.”

          This research emphatically refutes the notion that killing deer will reduce the tick population or Lyme disease. In the face of these indisputable facts it becomes unsupportable to kill deer for Lyme disease reasons.

        • In the case of rats, I would recommend secure garbage cans, and relatively clean streets and sidewalks. I would not recommend going out and shooting them in the streets and alleys. Violent solutions are not the most effective in managing these human animal conflicts, though they may be satisfying to the feelings of some.

        • “There is now ample scientific evidence in peer reviewed journals that all mammals experience stress, terror, shock, anxiety, fear, trauma, foreboding, as well as physical pain. Given this knowledge, it is simply illogical not to extend the same basic protection against the deliberate infliction of suffering to animals, which we ourselves enjoy.” – Revd Professor Andrew Linzey.

          Deer live in small closely bonded family units, i.e. mother (the matriarch) and siblings (brothers and sisters). There is visible love and affection (and play) shown between all these family members. They have very complex emotional and social lives.

          I’ve observed the emotional trauma, fear, and desperation of the fawns and siblings when the matriarch doe (their mother) is killed. In addition, when the matriarch doe is killed before she has an opportunity to teach her fawns how to survive their first winter, there is a high likelihood that her fawns will starve to death.

          “The deliberate infliction of suffering on ‘lesser creatures’ who are wholly in our power, and who are, strictly speaking, morally innocent is a gross betrayal of our God-given responsibilities.” – Revd Professor Andrew Linzey

  2. Deer Vassar neighbor, please get a life! I’m sure you’re the same grumpy old man that wants to sue kids for walking on your grass. I live in a neighborhood where we coexist peacefully with deer and wildlife and kids. I deer-proof my landscape by planting deer resistant flowers and plants, and have absolutely no problem with deer. If you continue to plant a smorgasbord of irresistible plants and flowers that deer love to eat, then you are intentionally feeding the deer and giving them an open invitation to your yard. If you refuse to plant deer resistant flowers, then you should put a fence up on your yard to protect your precious tulips.

    Deer have “done thousands of dollars of property damage to my home” – really, I’m sure that’s no exaggeration. How many tulips is that? And so why do you continue to plant flowers that you know deer love to eat. You’d think if your claim was true, that you’d plant some deer resistant flowers.

    Please get a life, and learn to coexist with nature.

    • A Vassar neighbor who has discussed "the deer problem" with college administration for years before the cull even started says:

      Mr Nagle. How fortunate for you that you “live in a neighborhood where we coexist peacefully with deer and wildlife”. I wonder how many deer you have visiting your yard and how close to the Vassar Farm your neighborhood is. Unfortunately for me, my home is landscaped with dozens of hemlock, yew, and rhododendron which were established plantings long before I moved in. There was no problem prior to the mid-90s when the herd on the farm apparently rose to its current overpopulated level. Though my trees and shrubs are supposed to be “deer resistant”, they are not. When the deer get “hungry enough” every few years when their overpopulation exhausts their preferred food, they eat anything and everything. The thousands of dollars of damage would be the cost to dig out the dozens of ruined mature shrubs and trees, grind out the stumps, and replant. I have avoided the cost because I am certain that without a more “exhaustive” cull in another two to three years that planting would be ruined as well. Oh, and the deer do attack my tulips, too. But your sarcasm about tulips, other flowers, and so-called deer resistant flowers is misplaced given that the property damage I am talking about is to large woody perennials, most of which are nine feet high but now denuded from ground level to close to the three foot mark. In addition I have gone to the expense of installing fencing around my vegetable garden for several hundred dollars. This has to be replaced regularly when the deer run though it and tear it down during the winter.

      I have also attended the presentations done by the professional snipers contracted by the college to shoot the deer. You may accuse these people of lying or of an inability to perform their jobs safely but I am unconcerned about the danger of errant shots taken from platform tree blinds built ten to fifteen feet above ground level, shooting at targets ten to twenty yards away.

      • The shooting incident example below is from a bait-and-shoot deer killing program in Amherst NY, which is similar to the program in Vassar. The police sharpshooter was shooting from a raised platform aiming down at a deer. The bullet struck something and ricocheted and blew a baseball size hole in a home several hundred yards away. The father and son were home at the time, but luckily were not injured.

        OFFICER’S ERRANT SHOT AT DEER UPSETS RESIDENTS

        The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
        Byline: Thomas J. Dolan – NEWS NORTHTOWNS BUREAU

        Three days after an errant shot fired from a nearby woods struck their home, a young Amherst couple are still shaken by the thought of what could have happened.

        Amherst police say that one of their officers — a marksman who is taking part in the town’s bait and shoot program to control deer — fired the round and that the shot ricocheted before hitting the house.

        But that’s not good enough for residents of San Fernando Lane, where the bullet landed in the second-floor guest room of a young family’s home.

        “In my opinion they should not have been anywhere this close to a house,” said a woman who lives in the house struck by the bullet. She agreed to an interview Monday on the condition that her name and address not be published.

        “When it happens, your instinctive reaction is to be outraged. We felt that at the time and still do,” she said.

        At about 10:30 a.m. Friday, her husband was working in a first-floor room of the house and the couple’s son was staying home from grade school because of illness, she said.

        The bullet blew a baseball size hole in their upstairs guest room window and lodged in a picture on the wall.

        Amherst police came to the house, and they were “extremely cooperative and extremely sensitive and sympathetic” about the incident, she said, but she added that nobody should be shooting a weapon that close to a house.

        Police told her the officer involved was several hundred yards away in the woods, aiming down at a deer from a platform when the round struck something and was diverted toward the houses on San Fernando Lane.

        Over the weekend, her husband took a walk into the woods and said it was “not that far.” “If there’s a chance of a fluke, they shouldn’t be there,” the woman said.

        According to the town’s online map system, the woods are located between Casey and North French roads, covering an area about 1,000 yards long and about 600 yards wide at the midpoint. The map also shows there are houses on three sides of the woods, the nearest of which are located about 300 yards or less from the center of the woods.

        According to the woman, her neighbors are aware of the incident and they are “very interested in what’s happening.” As for her son, she said, it has been “difficult to explain” to him what happened.

        Assistant Police Chief Ronald H. Hagleberger told Town Board members Monday that the bait and shoot program will remain suspended until the department concludes its noncriminal investigation of the incident in about three weeks.

        Police were withholding the names of the officer who fired the round and the owners of the home that was struck.

        “I don’t want to have this unfortunate incident stop the program,” Amherst Council Member William L. Kindel said, calling the incident “one in a million.”

        But Council Member Daniel J. Ward disagreed, saying the bait and shoot program is “an accident waiting to happen,” because Amherst is not a rural community.

        Program officials said they would continue nonlethal attempts to control deer herds during the suspension period.

        • A Vassar neighbor who has discussed "the deer problem" with college administration for years before the cull even started says:

          Mr Nagle, Thank your for you uncited report from The Buffalo News. I will be following up with both The News and the Amherst police department on Monday to learn what the ultimate resolution of the incident was. Meanwhile may I suggest that culling the deer with bows rather than firearms would be an equally effective alternative to resolve my concerns and would reduce the risk of several hundred yard ricochets to effectively zero.

          • Amherst Police Officer’s Errant Shot at Deer Upsets Residents
            By Thomas J. Dolan
            The Buffalo News
            News Northtowns Bureau
            2/8/2005

          • Please refer to my post, “Why Killing Deer Doesn’t Work”, and the study (Reproductive Dynamics Among Disjunct White-tailed Deer Herds in Florida”, Journal of Wildlife Management [1985])

          • BOW HUNTING 50% + WOUNDING RATE

            Bow Hunting is extremely ineffective and inhumane. Twenty-two published scientific surveys and studies indicate that the average wounding rate for bow hunting is over 50 percent. More than one out of every two deer shot is never retrieved, but dies a slow tortuous death from blood loss and infection. Many of these wounded deer will be running out into the roads causing accidents, and other will be dying in residents yards traumatizing families and their children.

            For example, “Preliminary Archery Survey Report” Montana Dept. of Fish Wildlife and Parks reports 51% wounding; “Archery Wounding Loss in Texas” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (51% wounded); “Deer Hunting Retrieval Rates” Michigan Pittman-Robertson Report, Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (58% wounded); “Effects of Compound Bow Use on Hunter Success and Crippling Rates in Iowa” Wildlife Society Bulletin (49% wounded); “Bow hunting for Deer in Vermont: Some Characteristics of the Hunters, the Hunt, and the Harvest” Vermont Fish and Game Department (63% wounded). The average wounding rate from all 22 reports is 55%.

            Laura Simon, The Humane Society of the United States’ wildlife biologist, writes, “Bow-hunting is undeniably inhumane and can incur wounding rates ranging from 40%-60% (Gregory 2005, Nixon et. al 2001, Moen 1989, Cada 1988, Boydston and Gore 1987, Langenau 1986, Gladfelter 1983, Stormer et. al, 1979, Downing 1971). In other words, on average, for every deer struck by an arrow, another may be wounded but not killed. The sight of wounded deer can be extremely traumatic for adults and children alike, and was one of the main reasons that a deer hunt on Fire Island in NY was called off and a immunocontraception-based program implemented instead.”

      • “According to the International Hunter Education Association, approximately 1,000 people in the US and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters every year, and just under a hundred of those accidents are fatalities.”

      • What makes you think that in your area, killing deer will not lead to compensatory rebound………like it does in every other area? You are in denial if you think that gunning down deer will solve your issues. Your willingness to expose others to danger, because of your unwillingness to coexist, is shameful.

    • Landscapers are often to blame for not informing their customers about more deer-resistant plantings, after all, it’s great business for them and many are also avid hunters since winters are off-season for landscapers.

      • I agree; why would they cut off their noses to spite their faces and tell their customers about plants that deer don’t like – it wouldn’t be great for business, would it? Lists of deer-resistant plants/shrubs/trees can easily found by letting your fingers do the walking….just google them!

  3. The rifle typically used in these deer killing programs is the .223 caliber bolt-action rifle with 55-grain bullets (some vendors use the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle). The maximum range of the .223/55-grain ammunition is 2.20 miles. So if there is a misfire, missed shot, or ricochet anyone within a 2.20 mile radius is in lethal danger. Vassar has turned their farm and ecological preserve, campus and the adjacent neighborhoods into a dangerous hunting shooting gallery that threatens the safety of students, families, children, and pets. This is an accident waiting to happen.

  4. “Deer are [artificially] managed on a Maximum Sustained Yield (M.S.Y.) principle to produce surpluses for hunter recreation. One M.S.Y. method is to kill excesses of bucks in order to alter the natural 1 to 1 male/female sex ratio, leaving 5 to 15 females for each male. This maximizes fawn production. Another M.S.Y. method is habitat manipulation. For example, the Wildlife Division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Michigan increased the deer herd from 400,000 to one million by clear cutting 1.3 million acres of state forest to create deer browse. According to officials, this was done “because a forest managed by nature cannot produce a fraction of the deer needed by half a million hunters.” (The American Hunting Myth, Ron Baker, 1985)

    The DEC artificially propagates the deer population for its hunter constituents, and is directly responsible for the resulting deer population.

    The DEC is running a blood “sport” business masquerading under the guise of conservation. It’s time for this antiquated agency and deer management hunting paradigm to evolve from a game commission into a real conservation agency where all public stake holders hold seats on the management board.

  5. I have lived with deer for 40+ years in New Jersey and I have never had a problem with them. I LOVE THEM.

    If states leave deer alone, their population will stabilize. Many studies have proven this.
    Deer did not proliferate before state wildlife agencies began to regulate hunting for the “maximum sustained yield ” of this species.
    We have so many deer because…
    since the turn of the century, Game Codes have provided a system for the propagation, of game birds, game animals, and fur-bearing animals for their use for public recreation. (Killing
    would never be recreation for me.)
    Several universities have done studies to prove that hunting serves to increase the herd. The fact is that hunting simply does not work as a sustainable solution to reduce or even control the deer population due to the principal of reproductive rebound. According to many documented studies, deer conceive multiple embryos, but the number of fawns born is directly related to nutrition and herd density. When herd density is temporarily reduced through hunting, there is reduced competition for food and the number of twins and triplets born actually increases.
    This is called Reproductive Rebound/Compensatory Rebound.
    According to big-game texts, “Hunting . . . gets the population into its most productive range . . . this ensures that many animals will be produced

    • You’re absolutely correct, Barbara – according to insurance companies’ statistics, most deer/car collisions occur on the first day/ first week of hunting, then taper off because deer have become more accustomed to hunters in the woods.

  6. I congratulate these students for attempting to correct the errors of the college administrators.
    I agree with previous comments about the inappropriateness of lifting deer density recommendations from clear cut forests and trying to apply them to suburban and urban locations. I also think that Vassar could try to help gardeners avoid damage to their gardens and live peacefully with wildlife.
    But if deer reduction is needed there are ways of obtaining it that are both more effective and more humane than shooting. When deer populations are suddenly reduced by killing, the population will rebound because there are more resources for the deer who respond by having more young. So the killing has to be repeated year after year indefinitely. As one deer sharpshooter put it, it is like mowing grass. Lucrative for the shooters, not so great for the community. Vassar should at least talk to the Humane Society of the US about the contraceptive vaccine they have used successfully in other locations.

  7. Many independent forest and wildlife experts disagree with the general premise of Vassar’s claims that the deer prevent the establishment of young trees and reduce plant diversity in their ecological preserve, i.e. the threats to biodiversity caused by deer as the main justification for their deer slaughters.

    “Acid rain is more responsible than white-tailed deer for forests not regenerating, claims [Bill Sharpe] a Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences forest hydrologist … They can kill all the deer, but it will take a lot more than that to fix the forests.” Penn State Expert Blames Forest Problem on Acid Rain, Not Deer”, Penn State Live, 5/17/02. In addition, in a recent landmark study, “Regional-Scale Assessment of Deer Impacts on Vegetation Within Western Connecticut, USA”, Angela C. Rutherford, et al., School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, Journal of Wildlife Management 74(6):1257-1263; 2010: DOI:10.2193/2009-068, concluded that deer density is not a leading factor determining variation in vegetation impacts. Furthermore, a study from Ohio University, “Indirect Effects of a Keystone Herbivore Elevate Local Animal Diversity”, Katherine R. Greenwalk, et al., Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Journal of Wildlife Management 72(6):1318-1321; 2008, concluded that management of deer populations (e.g., via culling, sterilization, or carnivore reintroduction) could have the unintended effect of reducing local diversity of herpetofauna and invertebrates.

  8. Below is an excerpt from a letter by Laura Simon, Field Director Urban Wildlife Program, of The Humane Society of the United States, whose credentials also include an M.E.S. Degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, to the president of another New York state university that was considering a deer killing program for the same reasons given by Vassar.

    Dear President XXXXXXX,

    On behalf of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and our more than 800,000 New York members and supporters, I am writing to voice our firm opposition to the proposed plan to cull deer at the Nature Preserve.

    While The HSUS is in agreement that there is a need to mitigate conflicts with deer and find ways to enhance native biodiversity — we do not agree that the decision to cull or hunt deer at the Nature Preserve is justified nor will it achieve the University’s goals.

    THE PROBLEM CONTEXT:

    The ability of deer to adapt to suburbanized landscapes and co-exist with people has created new challenges and conflicts, as are currently being experienced in upstate New York and elsewhere.

    Yet Xxxxxxxxxx’s forests, like much of the northeastern forested landscape, are subject to any number of direct and indirect influences that together have created the conditions that we see today. These influences run the gamut from acid rain, insect damage, disease, development, pollution, loss of soil fertility, herbivory, invasive and other competing plant species, parasitic organisms, and landscape fragmentation, among other factors. New research is even showing the potentially huge but largely invisible impact of introduced, non-native earthworms as significant influences on forest ecology.

    It is vital in addressing the issue of deer-human conflicts that we not use deer as scapegoats for larger and more systemic problems.

    ARE DEER RESPONSIBLE FOR LACK OF REGENERATION AND BIODIVERSITY LOSS?

    While it is easy to point the finger at deer and blame them for our forest regeneration woes, the reality is that our ecosystem issues are fraught with complexity, and also subject to human aesthetic preferences which may or may not be grounded in any sort of biological reality. For example, we may want to see more biodiversity in certain areas because we are used to having seen it there in the past. Yet nature is not static. A condition in which a forest floor was carpeted with wild flowers can rapidly transition into another state as a result of forest succession. Certain plant species are shaded out as trees mature and the forest canopy closes. Later successional stages are, by their very nature, less diverse.

    While we may want to see a certain flower grow somewhere doesn’t mean it “should” be there. Take the case of certain trillium, which are often used as an indicator of high deer abundance. Some research shows that soil acidity is a much stronger determinant of where purple trillium and many important timber species (red oak, sugar maple, quaking aspen, etc) will grow, rather than deer density levels. (Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences News Release, May 17 2002).

    The impact of deer on exotic and invasive species is another complex issue. Deer appear to control the spread of certain invasive plant species while helping to proliferate others. The lack of an understory in eastern hemlock forests is often attributed to deer, yet it is simply a characteristic of older hemlock stands that they be relatively depopulate of understory. The less visible yet catastrophic impact of the wooly adelgid is killing entire stands of hemlock and dramatically changing ecological conditions in the riparian areas these trees favor. How ecological processes are affected by deer browsing is not as simple as meets the eye.

    We are not denying that deer can have a significant impact on our northeastern forests. Deer impacts can be very visible and deer browsing can unquestionably alter forest structure. However, the bottom line is that single species management has never been a viable way to manage a complex, multi-faceted problem. By intensively managing one component of a forest, the result may be unforeseen impacts on other components, such as the spread of certain invasive, non-native plant species. There simply has not been enough time since the return of deer and forests both to greater abundance and health than in the past for us to understand (and properly plan for how to influence if necessary) the complex ecological associations involved.

  9. WHY KILLING DEER DOESN’T WORK

    While it may seem counter intuitive, killing deer actually triggers an increase in deer reproduction and population. This phenomena is called compensatory reproduction (rebound) and is a well documented population dynamic in deer and other mammals. When the deer herd density is temporarily reduced through hunting, culling, or trapping, there is reduced competition for food, and the number of twins and triplets born actually increases. Studies have shown that after a hunt surviving females produced enough offspring to not only replace those killed, but enough to actually increase the size of the herd. This phenomenon explains why hunting as a management tool has resulted in an ever-increasing number of deer in this country. For example, a study conducted by the Dept of Wildlife and Range Sciences, School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida sampled deer from five separate sites: three hunted and two nonhunted. The study found that the incidence of twins being born to a pregnant doe was higher on hunted land than on non hunted land. The study found the incidence of twinning was 38% on hunted sites and 14% on nonhunted sites. No twinning was observed among pregnant fawns or yearlings from nonhunted areas, whereas…18% of the pregnant yearlings and…33% of the pregnant fawns from hunted areas carried twins.” (Reproductive Dynamics Among Disjunct White-tailed Deer Herds in Florida”, Journal of Wildlife Management [1985]).

    Laura Simon, The Humane Society of the United States’s (HSUS) wildlife biologist writes: “One of the main problems with trying to manage deer through any kind of hunting or culling – as repeatedly cited during a Smithsonian Institute conference on Deer Overabundance (McShea et. al 1997) – is that deer are highly prolific, and their high reproductive rate can quickly compensate for declines in their population. They exhibit higher productivity (i.e. more twins and triplets are born, have higher survival rates, etc.) as their numbers lessen and more food becomes available for the remaining deer. In other words, they ‘bounce back’. … We do not see any evidence that hunting or culling works over the long-term or is an answer for suburban deer conflicts.”

    Killing deer is not a solution to a problem, but a commitment to a permanent problem.

  10. As numerous studies has shown killing deer does not solve anything. Hunting simply decreases the competition for food among the animals that survive or nearby deer move into the area. As the potential for malnutrition is reduced, the incidence of death and disease is reduced. So the animals left behind will be better fed, become stronger and their potential for reproduction will increase. As quite clearly stated in the college textbook “Wildlife Ecology and Management ” (Fifth Edition, Pearson Education, Inc. 2003) “[]hunting mortality is frequently compensatory because it usually increase the life expectancy of individuals surviving the hunt, promotes higher reproductive rates, or does both.

    The U.S. Supreme Court declared: “Wildlife is held in trust for all citizens.” This means that Government would be responsible for the protection of wildlife for the benefits of all citizens. It would also indicate that wildlife could not be exploited by any segment of the population at the expense of the rights of other citizens for whom it was held in trust. Students of Vassar should have a say in trying to save these animals, by using alternatives to killing deer. Other communities have used non-lethal methods and have been very successful.

  11. As numerous studies has shown killing deer does not solve anything. Hunting simply decreases the competition for food among the animals that survive or nearby deer move into the area. As the potential for malnutrition is reduced, the incidence of death and disease is reduced. So the animals left behind will be better fed, become stronger and their potential for reproduction will increase. As quite clearly stated in the college textbook “Wildlife Ecology and Management ” (Fifth Edition, Pearson Education, Inc. 2003) “[]hunting mortality is frequently compensatory because it usually increase the life expectancy of individuals surviving the hunt, promotes higher reproductive rates, or does both.

    The U.S. Supreme Court declared: “Wildlife is held in trust for all citizens.” This means that Government would be responsible for the protection of wildlife for the benefits of all citizens. It would also indicate that wildlife could not be exploited by any segment of the population at the expense of the rights of other citizens for whom it was held in trust. Students of Vassar should have a say in trying to save these animals, by using alternatives to killing deer. Other communities have used non-lethal methods and have been very successful.

  12. Dr. Rick Ostfeld, an ecologist in Millbrook, N.Y., said that a reduction in biodiversity limits other animals that the ticks may feed on. Therefore, if we kill off other wildlife such as deer or foxes, the ticks will then feed mostly on mice, increasing their chances to become infected with Borrelia. Also cases of Lyme increase when there are no deer to attract the ticks and the ticks therefore land on people.
    Deer do not infect ticks. Mice do.
    The Lyme disease organism (Borrelia burgdorferi) is vectored principally by a hard tick, Ixodes dammini, which is commonly found on the Deer Mouse, (Peromyscus maniculatus). This is most likely how the name “deer” tick began.
    Mice have three principal requirements to inhabit an area: variety of food, nearby water, and ground cover, which is extremely important for protection, whereas open space is dangerous. This is precisely why areas with thick ground cover (more than ankle-deep) averaged 23 times the tick populations of areas with sparse or low-lying vegetation.
    So, without the deer eating the ground cover, there will be many more ticks for those concerned about Lyme disease.
    Factors for acquiring Lyme disease include: participating in brush clearing activities from June through August, and the presence of birdfeeders, woods or rock walls on residential property. Mice and ticks find themselves at home in lawns and hedges and often hide in plants such as pachysandra.
    The disease moves into suburban backyards in part because the infected ticks are on creatures attracted to birdfeeders. Ticks are found on at least 49 bird species, and at least 30 species of mammal.
    Ticks do not jump, fly, or drop from trees. You must come into direct contact with them by brushing against something that has a tick on it.

  13. Finding and promptly removing ticks (from a person or pet) can dramatically reduce risk of infection. Once the tick has been removed, have it identified. Only certain kinds of ticks can transmit the agents of Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Other ticks may transmit other infections. The longer the tick is attached, the greater the risk of infection. Physical samples can be sent, or digital images uploaded, for a rapid, confidential, independent and expert evaluation. For more educational information, guidance on tick removal and help with identification, visit https://identify.us.com/idmybug/ticks/tick-FAQS/
Reply

    • We have lived in real “deer country” since 1984 – in all those years, we’ve had two ticks between all of us, with no Lyme disease. However, the absence of deer doesn’t guarantee absence of black-legged ticks, I hope people know that!

  14. PZP IMMUNOCONTRACEPTION IN WHITE-TAILED DEER

    Suburban deer populations have been stabilized and reduced over time by 35-50% at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and two other field sites. The most dramatic reduction so far has occurred where use of one-treatment PZP vaccines has been associated with a population reduction of 44% in five years.

    Dr. Allen Rutberg
    Fertility Control for Wildlife
    Department of Biomedical Sciences
    Tufts University Center for Animals and Public Policy
    Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

  15. How troubling that an institution of higher learning has chosen to target native wild lives who are “altering” the environment. How about educating the community about the myriad ways in which humans are wreaking havoc? Destructive human habits are felt far beyond the forest structure of the VFEP, of course–and it’s a joke to blame the animals simply for existing. Thank you to the students and activists who are fighting to educate the public regarding Vassar’s old-school and wholly unnecessary agenda, and who are presenting alternatives that are both ethical and scientifically supported.

  16. There is a lot of good information being offered here to dispel myths that the deer, our fellow animals, are some kind of invasive species spreading disease and mayhem. If we judged humans by the same standards, there would surely be more grounds to find us guilty of being an invasive species whose numbers must be controlled lest we destroy all of nature.

    There is also plenty of information here, and from scientific experts, that counters the small-minded approach of killing as a so-called “solution” to resolving the deer-human conflict, an approach which has proven to only offer short term reductions in population, which is no solution at all for those wishing to adequately address their concerns. As we all know, even one deer can do significant damage to landscaping, so the question is not how many deer the community needs to kill (as extermination is both illegal and immoral), but how people can better protect their landscaping and find ways to co-exist with the individuals from an indigenous species who belong in our environment and whose biological programming makes them perfectly fit to survive and thrive here — even in the face of annual killing programs.

    If killing deer WERE a solution, it would not need to be repeated year after year, as Vassar has done and seemingly expects to continue to do, indefinitely. A solution SOLVES a problem, it doesn’t kick the can down the road. Killing deer to resolve human-deer conflicts solves nothing – it is merely a commitment to perform killing over and over again, as a way of life. This is unacceptable, especially in an academic community that has resources and knowledge at its disposal. I challenge those supporting the killing to do some honest, open-minded research, and not fall victim to their own confirmation bias. There are other ways. Maybe even approaches that will give you more effective relief, a win-win. The truth is, we all can do better than this. And it is our moral obligation to try.

    • According to a “professional deer killer” whom I don’t wish to provide with free advertising, killing deer is like mowing the lawn; once you start, you have to keep doing it, ad infinitum.
      The more deer are killed, the more they reproduce. According to a peer-reviewed scientific study by Richter & Labisky, hunted herds produce twins/triplets at the rate of 38%, while that number drops dramatically to only 14% in deer herds that are NOT hunted.
      It’s simple logic: When deer are killed in the fall, more food is left for the survivors – sperm counts go up with better nutrition, resulting in multiple births; had no deer been killed, food would have been shared by many more, with fewer births.

  17. A Vassar neighbor who has discussed "the deer problem" with college administration for years before the cull even started says:

    It is interesting that my comment posted yesterday, which unlike those of most of the “deer advocates” participating contained a citation rebutting claims about the poor efficacy of killing deer, does not appear on the web page even though pro-deer comments posted later in the day do appear. Bias? Censorship?

    • Hello. None of your comments have been deleted. If it doesn’t appear on the page, that means the submission didn’t go through on your end.
      -Jackson

  18. A Vassar neighbor who has discussed "the deer problem" with college administration for years before the cull even started says:

    I have contacted both the Buffalo News and the Amherst police about the report of an errant shot during a cull twelve years ago. The Buffalo News City Desk can be reached at 716-849-4444. The Amherst police asked me not to share their phone number though it is trivial to look it up. The News said that the reporter no longer works there and that they can not verify any of the information in the report. The police said that they will not share any information with anyone not involved in the incident.

    My concern is that if this ONE twelve-year-old incident is to be used as justification to not use firearms to cull the deer, then any difference that makes it an “apples to orange” comparison is important.
    1) We can neither confirm who fired the shot nor what the shooter’s skill was. Vassar has repeatedly claim that the culls are conducted by “professional sharpshooters”.
    2) The reports that the shot was fired from a platform, fired downward, and from several hundred yards from the house all are said to come not directly from the police but from the irate homeowner. There is no report of how high the platform was.

    Regardless, in the interest of safety I am totally agreeable with the use of bows instead of rifles to kill the deer. If I’m not making noise or moving quickly, I can easily approach the deer in my yard to within ten feet. I would be surprised if a competent bowman would fail to make a “kill shot” at that range.

    • What kind of man or “hunter” could shoot a tame doe and her fawns that you can walk right up to in your back yard?

  19. “PROFESSIONAL SHARPSHOOTERS”

    As I understand, Vassar hired the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services as their deer killing contractor. Both Wildlife Services and Vassar claim that the “culls” are conducted by “professional sharpshooters”.

    USDA APHIS WILDLIFE SERVICES 2008 FIREARM SAFETY REVIEW

    Below are key findings from the National Security Academy Firearm Safety Review of the APHIS Wildlife Services. This review was sought by the USDA out of concern for safety issues. I’m posting a summary of this review, because it’s the review I requested and received a copy of and reviewed a few years ago. At that time, Wildlife Services also claimed that their shooters were “professional sharpshooters”. I’m assuming that there have been more recent safety reviews for those who want to investigate further. This safety review found that APHIS Wildlife Services:

    1. Had no uniform method of safely transporting firearms.
    2. Used an unsafe practice of transporting rounds in the magazine, but not in the chamber.
    3. 85% of employees interviewed were deficient in firearm safety and handling training, including lack of live fire training.
    4. Only 2% of all employees who use firearms were drug tested.
    5. Seven (7) firearm accidents, which upon investigation, were attributed to ignorance, negligence, or carelessness.
    6. 100% of employees could not name all four Wildlife Services fundamental gun safety rules.
    7. Wildlife Services is being faced with the possibility of hiring biologists or field employees with little or no firearm experience.

    Based on this idependent safety review, I don’t think any reasonable person can take any comfort in the claims that these bait-and-shoot programs are being conducted by “professional sharpshooters”, and even if they were, a “professional sharpshooter” has no control over missed shots, richocets, or misfires.

    A leading deer killing contractor was quoted in a regional newspaper saying, “It’s highly stressful because you always have to assume you’re going to miss.”

    The maximum range for a .223 rifle with 55 grain bullets (the typical rifle and ammo used for suburban deer culls) is 2.2 miles.

  20. BOW-HUNTING AND TRACKING THE BLOOD TRAIL OF WOUNDED DEER

    Remember, with bow hunting there is a 50%+ wounding rate. Tracking of wounded deer and following a blood trail is difficult enough in New York’s state game lands with hundreds to thousands of acres of forest and woodlands where the hunter has legal access to these large tracks of property to track and kill the deer. However, how are the hunters going to track and kill wounded deer shot on Vassar property that run into the surrounding densely populated community. It’s illegal for the hunter to trespass or use lethal weapons on this privately owned land? Effective tracking of wounded deer throughout the surrounding densely populated community would be impossible.

    “Most deer can travel very fast when wounded. They can hit 35 mph [sound safe], and even if they die quickly after the shot, they can travel a long distance before collapsing. A wounded deer will not go far unless it is pushed. Therefore it’s always a good idea to sit still for at least a half-hour after the shot unless you want to make the tracking job a lot more difficult. … Timing is very important. Tracking too soon is the No. 1 reason why mortally wounded deer travel long distances and make recovery difficult or impossible. Unless the animal drops within sight, no trail should be taken within 30 minutes. The deer you just shot will be looking at the spot where it was wounded to see what happened. It will bed down soon and try to lick or heal the wound, usually within the first 40 yards if there is good cover. Don’t turn a 40-yard trail into a 400-yard trail! Blood with green matter should dictate a minimum five-to-six-hour wait before tracking.” [After The Shot: Blood Tracking Whitetails by Jerry Allen, 9/22/10]

    Just picture these bow hunters running and driving around Arlington and Poughkeepsi roads in their camo outfits with lethal weapons in hand trying to track wounded deer from the roads. They can’t trespass on residents private property to track the blood trail or kill the deer. The wounded deer are not going to stay on Vassar property. There will be wounded deer running all over Arlington and Poughkeepsi causing car accidents and traumatizing residents.

    No doubt a few residents would want to give approval for hunters to track blood trails and kill deer on their property; however, the wounded deer will be running everywhere, and so the entire community would have to vote on this issue.

    Furthermore, what would Vassar’s liability be if an arrow shot wounded deer on Vassar’s property runs into the adjacent community and causes a car accident and a fatality? The hunters on Vassar’s property would be part of Vassar’s sponsored bow hunting program.

    Laura Simon, The Humane Society of the United States’ wildlife biologist, writes:

    “Bow-hunting is undeniably inhumane and can incur wounding rates ranging from 40%-60% (Gregory 2005, Nixon et. al 2001, Moen 1989, Cada 1988, Boydston and Gore 1987, Langenau 1986, Gladfelter 1983, Stormer et. al, 1979, Downing 1971). In other words, on average, for every deer struck by an arrow, another may be wounded but not killed. The sight of wounded deer can be extremely traumatic for adults and children alike, and was one of the main reasons that a deer hunt on Fire Island in NY was called off and a immunocontraception-based program implemented instead.”

    In addition, Laura Simon writes: “Bow-hunting is also one of the more inefficient forms of hunting. For example, in a requently cited and published case of deer reduction by bow-hunting, it took 66 hunters a total of 371 outings to kill 22 deer on a 53 acre site (Kilpatrick and Walter, 1999).”

  21. HUNTING INCREASES CAR-DEER COLLISIONS

    Studies show that hunting actually increases car-deer collisions. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, most car-deer collisions happen during hunting season. Pennsylvania’s second largest insurance company (the nation’s 12th largest insurer) — Erie Insurance — collected data that showed a five-fold increase in car-deer collisions on the first day of hunting, and that car-deer collisions remain high throughout hunting season. This is caused by hunters pushing deer out into the roads and panicked wounded deer running into the roads. In addition, once you kill the matriarch doe, whose job it is to safely cross her family, her orphans will run into the roads without caution.

    So if Vassar sponsors a hunting program it will increase car-deer collisions in the surrounding residential community. Again, this raises the question of liability for any damage, injuries, or deaths that are caused by its sponsored hunting program.

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