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The Berkshires

Controversy swells over Vassar College's planned deer cull

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Albany/HV: Controversy swells over Vassar College's planned deer cull
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Vassar College's plan to bait, shoot, and kill 40 deer on Vassar Farm has some neighboring locals up in arms, trying to block the cull in court. YNN's John Wagner lays out both sides of the story.

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- Around 50 "Bambis" are at the center of a growing controversy. Vassar College says left unchecked, an overpopulation of deer is decimating their ecological preserve. Some neighbors disagree, saying the university is being cruel and inhumane..

"It's a slaughter, they're going to kill these animals by luring them with food," said town of Poughkeepsie resident, Jane Smith. "Vassar should not be choosing who lives and who dies, plant matter and animals. They are not God."

"It's an exercise in futility, totally unscientific," said one protestor.

"They could kill them all and tomorrow more would come in because they'd see there's no competition," said Dick Smith, another local upset by the plan.

Opponents say there's more sustainable and humane ways to control the number of deer --like contraception or fencing in young plants.

"It [fencing] will be cheaper over the long term," said Rockwell Schwartz, co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition. "It will have a great impact and it will restore the bio-diversity which is the main goal here."

Vassar, on the other hand, says the DEC won't allow contraception for deer management. The college maintains that using sharpshooters is the only legal and practical method to protect their ecological preserve.

"If you walk through the woods, you see old trees but no new trees," explained Vassar College spokesman Jeff Kosmacher.

Development is crowding out deer's natural habitat, and the square mile Vassar Farm is an oasis of sorts. One that Vassar says will dry up if not for an ongoing plan to manage the deer population.

"They are consuming everything that all the other creatures rely on to survive," said Kosmacher.

Vassar set the cull for January while students are home on break and few locals visit the park, but it may not happen. The group "Save Our Deer" filed a lawsuit claiming the college needs a SEQRA environmental review before getting DEC approval.

The groups founder, Marcy Schwartz, calls the deer cull, "a factually unsupportable and morally reprehensible virtual slaughter."

With all of deer's natural predators gone from Poughkeepsie, the college alleges the deer controls the ecosystem.

"There'd be no new generation of growth in the forest," said Kosmacher, "so any disease that might effect it, would simply wipe out our woods."

The deer get their day in court later this month.

The group, Save Our Deer, says the killing is unnecessary and wants to protect the animals.

To see what Vassar College had to say, visit ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP