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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11 thoughts on “What to Do about the Seneca White Deer?”

  1. Pingback: What to Do about the Seneca White Deer? | Former Amish News

  2. I drive along the western edge of the Seneca Depot on a regular basis. Late in the afternoon I can stop along the side of road, roll down my window and watch the white deer grazing on the other side of the fence. It’s a magic moment! By the way, Amish from Lancaster live directly across the road from the Depot. There has been a hunt for years to thin the herd, so hunting is not a new thing. Ecotours and hunting makes a lot of sense to me. This is all about greed and seeing who can make the biggest “buck.”

    1. Or who can get the biggest “buck.”

      It sounds like you believe that ecotours and hunting are compatible. To my way of thinking they are not.

      I can imagine what it’s like to watch the white deer grazing. A magic moment it would be. Perhaps before they are completely exploited, I will someday get a chance to see this for myself.

      Thank you for your comments.

  3. The problem of too many deer in a confined area can be a difficult one to solve without hunting (and I’m someone who would have to be in dire need in order to bring myself to shoot a deer).

    Here in Central Ohio, the metro parks have had a continuing problem with deer overpopulation, and they’ve tried all options, including darting with contraceptives. They tried moving deer to a willing landowner’s protected site, but (1) a large percentage of the deer died from the shock of the moving process itself, and (2) subsequently, another large percentage died from the shock of being in a new place! I don’t remember the actual figures, but I believe the remaining herd was something like 10% of the original number, the rest having died as a result of the move.

    Ultimately, moving proved to be a crueler option than using sharpshooters to thin the herd in the parks, which is what is done now, with the meat donated to food pantries.

    Contraception proved too expensive and impractical, since every doe needed to be “shot” each year.

    The useful part of this exercise was learning that the statistical models then in use (this was about 15 years ago, I think) were entirely wrong about deer fertility: it turned out that does are fertile for many more years than had been supposed, and they average more fawns annually (a greater percentage of twins and triplets) than scientific models had assumed until then.

    Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that there are no easy options here. Without predators, deer may inevitably overpopulate a restricted area. Neither moving them nor birth control will solve that problem humanely. I’m not a fan of hunting, but sometimes it may be necessary, since we’ve completely altered nature’s balance.

    1. Joan, thank you for bringing this important information to the discussion. I had no idea that moving deer was so perilous to their well-being. I suppose it makes perfect sense… they naturally stay within a relatively small area their whole lives long. Perhaps adapting to their immediate surroundings is one of their main methods of surviving.

      Interesting what they learned about deer fertility also. Thank you for sharing this information.

      You’re right about the absence of natural predators… so I suppose it is up to people.

      That said, I hope that people don’t get greedy and kill too many white deer so that they become endangered… or worse, extinct. That would be a crying shame.

      Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. New Jersey, which is a small state geographically, has a high deer population. The NJDEP supports community-based deer management programs to help keep the numbers down. Even though I love to see deer grazing on my lawn, or wandering around the neighborhood in the early morning, I do think it’s necessary to control the population. Deer are very adaptable and manage to do quite well in semi-urban areas. Unfortunately, people are not prepared for them to dash in front of their cars. I can’t tell you how many deer I see knotted up in a heap on the side of the road every year. It’s heartbreaking. Last spring, as I drove to work, I watched as two fawns bounded right up to the edge of the road, almost up to my car. They had no fear. I honked at them, and they just stared. Then I rolled down my window and shouted at them and waved my hands. They did eventually run away, but I think it was to continue their little frolic. I don’t think they were actually scared. I don’t know another way to handle this problem, other than thinning the population in a (comparatively) more humane way.

    1. Stacy, you and others have convinced me of the importance of keeping the deer population manageable. And compared to starving or being hit by cars, I suppose their meat at least feeds someone. I just hope temperance carries the day so we don’t exploit those rare and beautiful white deer.

      Thanks for your perspective, Stacy.

  5. I live in a small community outside the city of Pittsburgh. We are overrun with deer. We can have up to 10 deer in our yard at one time. They eat our gardens, vegetable and flower, plants, shrubs, whatever they can find. Too many deer, too little food. Their only predator is an occasional car. Something that makes me sad every time a see a deer on the side of the road.
    I agree with Joan that moving them would be traumatic and I’m sure, life threatening. They are a creature of habit. I read that deer are born, live and die within a one mile radius. They know their area and walk the same paths every day.
    Several boroughs around us are discussing the possibility of having experienced bow hunters come in to thin out the herd (the meat given to the local food banks). If they don’t many may starve during the winter month’s, a terrible way to die.
    I hope that these beautiful white deer can be left were they are and can be protected from those who simply want a trophy to hang on their wall. However, to keep the herd healthy and keep disease at bay controlled herd thinning by professionals may have to take place.
    What ever is decided I pray they keep whats best for these unique animals at the forefront of their discussions so they will be around for future generations to watch, study and enjoy.

    1. Pamela, really well said. Hearing your story of too many deer is good for me to hear. We have too many groundhogs, bunnies, and squirrels. We’ve finally given up having a vegetable garden of our own, and we so we frequent the local veggie stands instead. But bunnies and groundhogs do not eat as much as 10 deer!

      Thank you again for your comments. Your last statement is beautiful.

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