It is well-known by now that the overpopulation of deer is destroying our Nature Preserve.
Two hundred and twenty-six deer currently live on or near Binghamton University property, but the forest ecosystem can only sustain 15 to 20 deer. This colossal imbalance has resulted in the deer eating up to an astounding 99 percent of the forest’s understory, as estimated by Dylan Horvath, steward of natural areas for BU. Without new tree seedlings to replace dead trees, the forest cannot regrow.
Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the father of the U.S. wilderness system, once wrote, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Culling, or systematically killing, most of the deer, may seem like an incredibly unethical solution. At first I, too, was repulsed by the idea.
However, I argue that it is more wrong to do nothing and allow the overpopulation problem to persist.
I bring this problem back to the forefront of our minds, as six years have passed since the University last attempted to do something about it. A deer cull was scheduled to occur over winter break in 2011, but it was stopped just two days prior by a lawsuit.
It is always possible that more human interference will further disrupt the preserve. Ultimately, human interference is what caused the deer overpopulation in the first place. Twice in history, deer were actually close to extinction, so hunting policies were designed so that the deer population could increase.
Also, wolves and pumas were hunted out a long time ago by farmers who worried about their livestock being injured or killed, thus allowing deer populations to grow unchecked. While we succeeded in preventing deer from extinction, we have now created another problem that is affecting entire forest ecosystems.
But human interference does not have to yield bad results. Research and studies show that deer culling is largely successful in managing deer overpopulation. Thus, according to Leopold, it is ethical. Culling the deer is also ethical because no other known method comes nearly as close to preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of our Nature Preserve.
Cornell University and Vassar College have also tested the effectiveness of infertility treatments at lowering deer population. But even when infertile, the deer will still live for about a decade and will continue to eat the understory of the forest. The state of our Nature Preserve demands a quicker and more effective solution.
Translocating the deer also wouldn’t work because, first of all, it is illegal in New York state. This is because moving deer to other locations runs the risk of bringing with them foreign diseases. There are no other areas that we could relocate the deer to anyway, as most of the Northeast United States is also struggling with deer overpopulation.
This strategy also causes the deer to die slow, drawn-out deaths. Due to the stress and trauma associated with translocation, as many as 95 percent of the deer can end up dying, which can take a grueling 26 days.
A third strategy is fencing off the entire Nature Preserve so that deer cannot get in and eat it. But when the fence is initially built, deer will be inevitably trapped inside. Because they would be unable to escape and obtain enough food from outside the preserve, the deer would slowly starve to death. Also, how terrible is it to have to open a door to walk into a natural area?
At this time, deer culling is the best solution. I am sure that as time goes on, other effective methods for decreasing the deer population will be invented. The problem is that we do not have time to wait.
Doing nothing will only perpetuate this issue. As long as the deer overpopulation remains a problem, no new trees will replace the ones that die. As the trees continue to die, so, too, will our preserve. Each day that we fail to address the havoc being wreaked by the deer is another day closer to the disappearance of our precious Nature Preserve.
Georgia Kerkezis is a sophomore majoring in environmental studies.