Cheers to the best time of the school year: The sun shines harder and the work load is lighter. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing and the deer are munching. Though on the surface this scene appears the picture of tranquility, an overabundance of deer on campus is a problem too large to ignore.
The Nature Preserve gets a bit sparser each year. Our 600 acres of forest and wetlands has served as an excellent classroom setting, though students like me are watching it unravel due to negligence. Within the past few decades, the top predators of the Nature Preserve have been removed. Wolves used to keep populations of deer at a balanced level. Since the wolves’ absence, however, the deer population has skyrocketed to a figure ten times greater than what the forest can support. The deer have eliminated the lower canopy of the forest by browsing on all green they can reach. As a result, new trees are not able to replace old ones, wildflower species have been eliminated and ground nesting birds have disappeared from trampling. Though the untrained eye may not be able to perceive the ecological damage resulting from mismanagement, we can project that the forest will be depleted of much of its species within the next forty years.
Unfortunately, the only effective way to help the forest regenerate is to actively remove at least 90 percent of deer. Although this is not a practice we take lightly, it is necessary that we make responsible choices. If we continue to do nothing, the forest will continue to decline to something that more resembles a meadow of ferns (one of the few foods deer find intolerable).
Nobody wants to be a deer killer, but we need to embrace the benefits of this action. There are three ways in which this action will positively serve the broader community. First, the forest will have the opportunity to regenerate. The forest has become a sanctuary for students and citizens alike who enjoy passing time within its tranquility. Healthy forests clean the air and water, sequester carbon and foster biodiversity.
Secondly, the management of deer populations would demonstrate the University’s leadership in environmental responsibility. The Binghamton Climate Action Plan states a “commitment to preservation of forest and native species on University property,” while Binghamton’s Environmental Policy suggests we will “respect and preserve the campus natural areas.” These are serious commitments. If we want to talk about responsibility, we need to follow through. The putting the objectives of these documents into action is vital to Binghamton’s integrity.
Finally, we can use the deer meat to benefit people in need. CHOW, Binghamton’s most prominent food bank, has recently partnered with our dining halls to accept left over dining hall food through the Food Recovery Network. Under certain regulations, we may be able to provide the meat for thousands of meals to hungry people.
Not all decisions are easy. At the same time, actions that reflect a desire to benefit others, whether that be the birds of the preserve, students or the broader community, are noble and rewarding. I cannot understand how this University, a center for education and intellectualism, is so passive in responding to the environmental problems in our backyard. How can we contribute to the degradation of this planet in full awareness of the intensity of the situation? Ultimately, the decisions we make in regards to the environment are things that will sooner or later come back to us.
It is empowering to act as the stewards of our land. Though the increased deer population is a pestering issue, it will not go away on its own. The benefits of action greatly outweigh the costs of negligence.