Deer Culling in Westchester — Rhetoric vs. Reality

I recently received the email below from my colleague (and occasional guest-blogger), Vanessa Merton.  I found the topic so interesting (and topical — see the panther post below) and the email such a good read that I asked her if I could post it on the blawg.  She agreed and so…

deer suburbs

David, I didn’t see this subject referenced on the blawg under “deer” or “hunting”, but I’m imagining that you’re well aware of the major deer “culling” (killing) movement developing all around our immediate area: in my little, recently highly gentrified, home town 12 miles from Times Square, we may have a major deer kill by this winter, probably executed (J) by sharpshooters or maybe bow hunters – see .  And of course, similar government-sponsored (not merely permitted, but sponsored) kills have been proposed for Westchester County parks —,+2009 – and across the Hudson in Rockland County —,+2009 .   (These “solutions”, billed as interim if not final, may soon embrace moose as well – see news story below.)

I recently sat through the first Hastings-on-Hudson legislative hearing on a deer hunt proposal and was struck by the intensity of the many advocates for mass killing and the frequency of their use of the term “rats with hooves.”  The “cull” (I wish I had time to look up the etymology of that word – it’s so exquisitely clinical) proponents proclaimed themselves “animal lovers” and said that those who opposed systematic killing of deer were NOT animal lovers but rather (with an acid tone of contempt) “deer lovers,” because deer so ravage the natural habitat, other wildlife are driven out or starved.  (I’m a little hazy on the mechanics of this phenomenon – the deer eat what skunks and possums and raccoons eat? — but apparently it’s all documented in the legislative report.)  That rhetoric adroitly raises the issue: what is the right position for an animal advocate when confronted with government proposals to exterminate or at least vastly reduce a given animal population such as rats, lice, bedbugs, mosquitoes, etc.?  (I have to tell you, if I could wave a wand or even fire a .22 and kill all the mosquitoes on earth, I’m pretty sure I’d do it.  The bats can learn to eat something else.)

I am sure that many subscribers to this blog know and can summarize a good answer, which alas I lack the time and motivation to do.  (Importing coyotes to make the hunt “natural” strikes me as a nonstarter – people don’t want to endanger their cats and dogs – and a bit fatuous:  what, it’s OK to use undomesticated dogs but not domesticated ones?)  You can’t even really use the “predators would get the weaklings” argument, because the deer slaughter envisioned by the legislators is seriously  comprehensive: it would encompass weaklings and stronglings, males and females, old and young, fawns and six-point bucks.  At one point during the hearing, the Chair and resident expert biologist of the relevant citizens’ committee announced that there should be no more than ten (10) deer, in total, in the two square miles of Hastings-on-Hudson.  (I have more deer than that living in my back yard of a quarter-acre.)  About all I could manage to inquire about at the hearing was how, if this “cull” was not going to be a permanent, perhaps weekly or monthly, and rather charmless feature of life in Hastings-on-Hudson (“Kids, remember to stay out of the park today!  They’re shooting the deer!” “Omigod, I let the dog out this morning and it’s a DEER KILLING DAY!!”), the other deer from surrounding villages and towns would know enough not to cross the Hastings border and repopulate our lush parks and gardens, especially once all the competition had been “culled.”  There was an answer to this question, but I didn’t understand it.

I hope subscribers will help me get my thinking straight on this one.  Thanks, Vanessa

Half-ton moose causes 9-car pileup on I-684

(09/23/08) GOLDENS BRIDGE – A moose was struck and killed after wandering onto I-684 near Exit 6-A, causing a chain reaction crash Monday night, police say.

According to officials, at around 7:45 p.m., a Connecticut man hit the animal in the far right lane while driving north. Then, the moose hit or was hit by eight other vehicles.

The impact from the half-ton female moose caused a nine-car pileup, but police say only one person suffered minor injuries.  Fire officials say the drivers should consider themselves lucky, because 90 percent of the time a collision with a moose results in death.  The northbound interstate was closed for more than an hour while the animal’s bones were cleared out.

Following the accident, the state issued a “moose alert” for northern Westchester, urging drivers to watch out for the animals on local roads.

Goldens Bridge Fire Chief Rob Melillo was shocked by the accident.  “I’ve been a member of this fire department for 35 years, and I have never heard of such a thing,” he says. “We’ve heard about the dangers of deer and bears, but now it’s the moose!”  According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the moose was most likely in heat and wandered onto the road looking for a mate.  The DEC had taken the moose’s head to a lab in Albany in order to establish whether the animal suffered brain damage that caused it to wander into oncoming traffic.

2 Responses

  1. Vanessa, you raise so many important points, but I will only address part of one, since giving vague responses is truly the way of the academic. I don’t know how an animal advocate should respond government proposals to cull any animal (“to cull,” according to my Oxford dictionary, originally means “to put through a strainer” in Old French, which in turn comes from the Latin “colligere” meaning, in verb form, “to gather.”).

    I agree that mosquitoes are a tremendous pest, one that I would not be sorry to see go, were it not that the bats in our area are already struggling to stay alive. But, as always, the slippery slope that emerges from that rationale is dangerous. Why can I say mosquitoes, but not deer? Why are those who wish to cull the deer wrong if we already spend government money every year to eradicate the insects who may carry West Nile Virus? In both cases we are protecting human interests. But why stop there? Stray dogs and cats drain resources, and are potentially dangerous. Feral cats devastate local bird populations. Let us cull them as well.

    I think the same deer hunters, a few of them at least, would have a problem with that last statement. Maybe they would not. People will draw their own lines at where we can justify killing animals to benefit humans, animal advocates included. I don’t think that will change, or if that is a bad thing. Dealing in absolutes is a tricky business. What concerns me are decisions made by hypocrites. It is no secret that we are ourselves an overpopulated species that does tremendous damage to its environment. If we are culling deer because of this problem, I would like to see those same people advocating the culling of human populations. Too extreme? Okay, how about having them support and finance transit-oriented developments and protesting big-box outlets?

    Animal advocates are all over the place, so there is no “right” position for us all. My personal conclusion is that I cannot support the murder of deer that only exist in the condition they do because of habitat loss and an acute lack of predators, which are both things that another species’ proliferation caused.

  2. We are facing the same issues regarding deer in Ithaca,N.Y.Due to what I feel is lack of good land management practices we have failed to anticipate that due to a ever narrowing Habitat for our somewhat wild animals such as deer,skunk,raccoons,and who in fact are nowdependent on us now to determine their future survival.Personally,I would hate to live in a world without animals,I”m appalled and sorely dissappointed in the Board of Trustee’s in Ithaca for suggesting a mass extermination of these beautiful creatures.Many people in Cayuga Heights love the deer,they have watched them grow up.Some have changed thier gardening practices,many are heartbroken at the possibility that sharpshooters will come into a lovely,once peaceful neihborhood and kill,not cull innocent,healthy animals.It’s sickening.And the cost is outrageous.In these difficult economic times to be talking about expensive sterilization programs to help further reseach that the tax payers will get stuck with and the more heinous slaughter at $400/head estimating 100-200 deer this yr,it sounds awefully cavalier to many of us.And so cruel.What is to become of us if this is the best solution we can come up with

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