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The Vassar Deer Massacre

February 10th, 2010 by Barbara Stagno

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Photo Credit : Nicholas Fevelo for News - NYDailyNews.com

Photo Credit : Nicholas Fevelo for News - NYDailyNews.com

A deer massacre took place over two nights, January 7th and 13th, at a 530-acre farm preserve owned by Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. White Buffalo, Inc., a company of “sharpshooters” hired by Vassar, slaughtered sixty-four deer.

In order to make it easier to lure the deer, they were conditioned with food over a period of several weeks. After gaining their trust, they were shot at night as they returned to the area looking for food. Use of lights, known as deer jacking, was also allowed. Deer jacking involves shining a spotlight on a deer at night, temporarily “freezing” him or her in place (think deer in the headlights), making them an easy target for hunters.

After the first night of killing when 44 deer were killed, Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill was asked by a local grassroots organization to put an end to the slaughter. President Hill refused, and 20 more deer were killed. This was the first leg of the Vassar-lethal deer management program by which the college plans to kill a total of 85 deer, reducing the population on the preserve from 100 down to 15.

Vassar took its cue from the deer curtailment protocols of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), which advises that shooting deer is the best method for dealing with deer population control. Vassar was granted a permit by the NYSDEC to kill a maximum of 50 deer but it was revised to allow the college to take more. Vassar claims it investigated non-lethal deer management programs, such as fencing, fertility control, and relocation but opted instead to hire the sharpshooters.

The elite college claims the kill was “humane,” but White Buffalo was exposed in 2004 for placing plastic bags over the heads of deer who were shot but still alive during a cull in Akron, OH. Undercover video footage caught by the group SHARK shows deer flailing in distress for minutes after being shot.

Vassar’s intent was to finish the kill before students and faculty returned to campus from winter break, on January 20th, thereby avoiding public notice and eliminating the chance of any protest from taking place. The school claims it held public meetings informing students and the general public about the kill, but many citizens have complained that they were not notified and had no voice in the proceedings. The student newspaper, The Miscellany News, supposedly informed the students about the kill but was overwhelmingly biased in an article published on December 9th, the day classes ended. The study period started the next day and was followed by exams and the holiday season. Considering there was so little opposition to the deer kill on campus, it seems a near certainty that students were not aware of what it was all about.

Nevertheless, a grassroots group, SaveOurDeer, was formed in response to the killing. Composed of Vassar College students and members of the local community, the group has appealed to Vassar to end the kill in favor of non-lethal measures, but the college refused to consider them. SaveOurDeer has held two protests thus far, one of which was attended by more than 60 people.

Vassar paid at least $10,000 to hire White Buffalo to kill the deer. An initial estimate of $25,000 was presented to Vassar, which it was willing to pay, but that fee was reduced to between $8,000 and $10,000 “due to a change in scope of the operation and site details,” according to Vassar’s Web site.

Our question to Vassar: why not appropriate this money toward a program of deer fertility control using immunocontraception?
As an academic institution, Vassar is in a perfect position to utilize its faculty and student resources to implement a program of deer contraception. The funds used to hire sharpshooters should instead be applied towards a non-lethal program of deer population control. It is time to stop reverting to killing because it is the easy and unthinking thing to do.

Click here to send an e-mail to Vassar College’s President to protest the deer kill.