Saloma Miller Furlong
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What to Do about the Seneca White Deer?

Once in a while our advanced technology helps us to discover something new in nature. That happened last week, when something unexpected came up in my Google alert set at "Amish." There was a story in the Inquistr by Patrick Frye about a white deer population at the army depot in Seneca, New York called Rare White Deer at Seneca Army Depot Face Death, Will the Amish or Native Americans Save Them? This was the first time I had ever heard of white deer, other than in mythological stories. I remember reading the story of King Arthur hunting a white stag, for instance. Reading this news story made me realize there really are white deer, and that most of the ones living in the world live in Seneca, New York.

Back in the 1941, the army built a munitions bunker in Seneca. Unbeknownst to them, when they built a fence around the 7,000 acres of their depot, they fenced in several dozen rare white deer. Since then there have been quite a few generations of in-breeding, which is why there are estimates of up to 900 of these beautiful white deer living inside the protection of the fence.

The army is about to close their munitions plant, and they are thinking of auctioning off the land. This brings into question what will happen to the white deer herd. I learned more about the options being considered at Encylopedia Britannica Advocacy for Animals. The six options considered so far are:

1) Sessler Wrecking proposed to establish a canned-hunt facility directly involving the white deer as primary targets.

2) Empire Green Fuels proposed to build an ethanol plant on the site. This would not have a direct impact on the white deer but would leave them open to hunting and exploitation as regular wildlife.

3) There is an outside chance that the New York state DEC will want to take over the site to manage the area as a special preserve for the state of New York.

4) Recently the army has shown an interest in using the site for troop training.

5) Seneca White Deer, Inc. (a not-for-profit corporation), proposed a “conservation park” that would allow an annual hunt of a set number of white deer annually.

6) Wildlife Watch proposes to develop a natural wildlife park as a major tourist attraction for wildlife watching.

At first when I read through these options, I thought 3, 5, and 6 sounded like good options. But when I read more, I realized that option 5 would not be so good. Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) had the following to say about this option:

Seneca White Deer, Inc., proposes to sell “lottery tickets” to prospective hunters of the white deer at various gun shows throughout the country. Each fall during big-game-hunting season, Seneca White Deer, in consultation with the DEC, would set a quota of white deer that could be shot. It would then draw that number of “winning” lottery tickets. It is hard to see how this proposal differs substantially from the Sessler proposal. In each instance, a number of white deer are shot in a fenced-in area by someone who pays to shoot the deer at close range in an enclosed area.

Option 5 is also how the Amish became connected to this story. According to Patrick Frye:

The head of Seneca White Deer Inc. would like to purchase the Seneca Army Depot’s land. Money says his group is already partnering with the Nature Conservancy to raise money, but since the price is in the seven figures range, he admits his group needs help. Unfortunately, none of the Native American groups are likely to become involved in the bidding process, but Money hopes he can partner with local farmers or the Amish community in order to purchase at least 2,000 to 3,000 acres of the available land.

My last post was about Amish hunters in Maine asking (and receiving) an exemption from wearing orange hunting vests. I am not the only one who knows that there is a prevailing attitude among the Amish that laws don't apply to them. I also know there are plenty of Amish men who like to hunt for sport, and would love to "take" a white deer.

As was pointed out in the EB article, option 1 received too much opposition to be viable. But with a name like Seneca White Deer, Inc. a lot of damage could be done with the wrong intentions. I am thinking that these white deer are not safe in their hands. It sounds to me like they are using the Amish to gain support for their "bid."  I have come to the conclusion that option 5 is the most dangerous to the survival of these rare white deer.

At first, I was thinking it is nice that these proposals are coming forward before the deer are being exploited. And then I discovered that this is exactly what is already being done. First I found a photo of someone named Chris Brackett, who is posing with a dead white deer. With a little more investigation, I found an article called Annual Hunt Set to Thin White/Brown Deer Herd. Annual hunts have been going on since 1958. Here is a quote from the article:

“Frankly, I’ve never been against the hunt. I’m a hunter myself and that’s one of the main reasons the white deer have been able to survive,” said Dennis Money, president of Seneca White Deer, a group dedicated to promoting the deer and turning their presence into a regional tourism draw.

Having a hunter in charge of the white deer herd is very much like making a fox the boss of a henhouse. It seems like Money is trying to promote both hunting and tourism. And yet they seem completely incompatible to me.

There probably is a legitimate reason for keeping the herd at a size that this area can feed. However, if someone were dedicated to ensuring their survival, a number of the deer could be moved to other protected areas. It seems a sin to exploit one of God's rare creatures.

I am hoping that option 6 above is the one that wins out. I'd like to think that once in a while temperance wins out over greed. Only time will tell in this case.

What do you think?

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