A large percentage of the Nature Preserve’s deer population will be selectively killed over winter break, from Dec. 20 to Jan. 20. At least 50 deer — out of the 60 to 70 deer that currently call the Nature Preserve home — will be culled.
Binghamton University will hire a private company, White Buffalo, Inc., to conduct the culling. The deer will be baited using food and then shot in the head by sharpshooters in trees to make death immediate.
The Committee for the University Environment (CUE), which is made up of BU faculty, students and staff, announced the University’s plan of action during an informational meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6, in the Mandela Room.
“I assure you this is not something the University is taking lightly,” said James Van Voorst, vice president of administration at BU and co-chair of CUE. “We have been looking at this for two years.”
The meeting featured a panel of CUE members including Richard Andrus, associate professor of biological and environmental sciences; Julian Shepherd, associate professor of biological sciences; and Dylan Horvath, steward of the Nature Preserve. The panel also included Anthony DeNicola, the founder and president of White Buffalo, Inc.
BU President C. Peter Magrath made the decision to hire White Buffalo to cull campus deer in mid-November, according to Shepherd.
Andrus read a statement laying out CUE’s reasoning for why the deer in the Nature Preserve have to be culled.
“As stewards of our land, we may find it necessary to confront some [animal population problems] in order to prevent serious damage and even the eventual destruction of our natural communities,” Andrus said. “Since there is no practical way to bring predators back, we have an obligation to the forest to save it by reducing deer numbers.”
He added that BU is not “unique” in having problems with an out-of-control deer population or electing to kill the animals as a solution.
“Many colleges, universities, parks and municipalities have faced similar or different dilemmas from excess deer,” Andrus said. “The unfortunate thing is that if we do nothing, not only will the forest die off but the deer will then starve as they will be missing their habitat.”
Shepherd said he believes culling the deer was the only viable option. He said that the deer have done so much damage within the Nature Preserve that there has been little to no successful reproduction of trees in 40 to 50 years and a dozen species of wild flowers are gone from the area.
“One domineering species is not worth the loss of all these other species,” Shepherd said.
Horvath showed a PowerPoint presentation with data about deer on campus. He said that he had counted 45 to 55 deer and estimated that there are 60 to 70 in total. He said BU’s goal is to reduce that number to 8 to 10 deer.
Numbers of deer nationwide have risen steadily since the 1990s, according to Horvath. He cited statistics that the U.S. deer population has risen from 500,000 to 20 million since the 1990s and New York ‘s deer population has risen from 20,000 to 1 million during the same time period.
A handout given out at last Tuesday’s meeting said that CUE had considered several possible options for dealing with the deer population, including culling, relocating numbers of the animals and using animal birth control pills.
Horvath said culling was seen as the best option because CUE expects it will effectively reduce the deer population quickly and because the venison will be distributed to the needy through Hunters Feeding the Hungry. He acknowledged, though, that the culling would be bad publicity for BU.
DeNicola described how his company would carry out the killing of deer.
“We’ve refined the method over two years,” DeNicola said. “We attract the deer to a safe area, then there would be a direct shot to the brain. This is technically euthanasia. We guarantee every animal would be euthanized with a single shot to the brain. Typically it takes three shooting sessions per location to cull a minimum of 80 percent of the deer.”
Shepard said that once the campus deer population is reduced, signs of ecological restoration could be seen as early as the summer.
“We don’t really know how long it will take [to fully recover], several years at least,” Shepherd said. “We want some deer left and that will slow it a bit. And we don’t know how much we have lost permanently, as the deer have been exterminating things for many years.”
Michael MacAllister, a senior majoring in environmental studies, stated in an email that he believes that the deer culling is necessary.
“By reducing the population of natural predators, we effectively caused this problem to begin with,” MacAllister stated. “If we don’t fix it, the forest will continue to deteriorate, causing a loss of animal and plant species and even a loss of the very deer that caused the problem.”
New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has the authority to issue permits to allow deer culling out of hunting season, which is from Nov. 19 to Dec. 11 in the Southern Tier. BU is in the process of obtaining a permit, according to Shepard.
Ryan Huling, the manager of college campaigns and outreach for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said he thinks any killing of deer, especially on college campuses, is “pointless” and inhumane.
“The school will find itself in a cruel, endless and pointless killing cycle,” Huling said. “Tried and true urban wildlife management plans are integrative and adaptive, the keys being repellents, exclusion, deterrents and the elimination of artificial sources of food. When animals are killed or otherwise removed from the area, more will move in to use available resources. The temporary spike in the food supply will cause remaining does to breed at an accelerated rate.”