The big local news around Poughkeepsie recently has been the deer culling at Vassar college. Vassar has a 550 acre wilderness area, with an estimated 100 deer population. For friends in Vermont, or more rural areas, white tail deer around here are a problem. As the area has suburbanized over the last few decades, and there aren’t many hunters or huntable areas any more to keep them in check, the deer population has gone through the roof. At this point they are completely scouring the undergrowth, so the replacement trees that should be growing up, aren’t. That also devastates the habitat for a lot of other animal and bird species in the area. The deer population is so out of check with any sustainable natural levels, that they will eat anything that you plant, regardless of whether it’s a natural part of their diet or not. Deer collisions on the roads are a real threat. I see the smashed remains of a deer somewhere on my way to work on a weekly basis.
Vassar decided the best way to approach this was with a culling. They contracted a set of professional hunters to come in and take 85 deer out of the 550 acre lot. They obtained the state permits to do this, as it is done after night via spotting. The first night out they took 44 deer in 3 hours with 3 people. On the second night they took 20, and judged that it was probably sufficient for now. The meat from the kills is going to local food banks, providing an estimated 12000 to 15000 meals to local residents.
As one might imagine, a small group of locals has decided to protest this. Saying “there must be more humane” ways to deal with the problem, never of course with any suggestion on what that might be. I don’t think these folks understand what humane is. A quick kill shot for a deer is very humane compared to the ways these deer normally die, like being mauled by a car, or starving to death in a bad winter. We are fortunate enough that the entire population here has not yet been infected with wasting disease, which ripped through equally populated areas of the mid west, but if the population stays where it is, it will.
A big part of the problem is that people have so disconnected themselves from their food supply, that they don’t realize death is part of it. It’s what brings your chicken and your beef to your table, and probably not in a very humane way. We aren’t talking about wiping out a species here, we are talking about returning this area of land to something closer to the kind of balance it needs to stay healthy and support a wide range of species. If we hadn’t first wiped out the large predators (wolves and mountain lions), and then developed the surrounding land so densely that the replacement predators (human hunters) were also displaced, this sort of land management wouldn’t be needed. But we did, so it is.
Fortunately Vassar seems to be taking this in stride, and I applaud them for that. The analyzed a complex situation and made a pretty good call on what would be most effective, safest for the surrounding residents, and be most humane to the deer in question, and with the added effect of over 12 thousand meals going to local citizens that are in need.