Letter to the Editor: Lawyer takes aim at Vassar College deer slaughter

On January 3, 2020, Vassar College took aim at a group of deer on Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, and mass-shot them with military-grade fragmentation bullets.  The kill took place during Winter Break to avoid student protest, as have all Vassar’s kills, since 2010. Hunting is illegal at Vassar Farm, because it would endanger the surrounding homes.  So Vassar College baited the deer with corn, using a method that even many hunters find unethical.  

That Vassar College is on a crusade to unethically and violently expunge the oldest indigenous mammal in our area, based on a few professors’ dislike of deer, is abhorrent.  A small number of bucks have bedded down at Vassar Farm for decades. In the past, staff put out hay to help them through the Winter. Vassar’s current quest to kill is particularly  shocking because there is no compelling scientific basis for its violence.        

Vassar claims that it kills to preserve “biodiversity” at the Farm, due to “deer overpopulation”.  This is false on both counts. A scientific term, “deer overpopulation”, means that the environment cannot sustain the number of deer without sickness and starvation.  The deer carcasses from Vassar’s own kills have shown that the local deer are perfectly healthy. As to “’biodiversity”, Vassar cannot identify even one species presently impacted by deer.

Before Vassar’s recent kill, a local resident who legally hunts on property adjacent to the Farm, reported a drastic decrease in fawn numbers over the Fall hunting season, due to the growing coyote population.  This alone should have precluded Vassar’s January 2020 kill. It was not even considered by the school.

Vassar continues its pattern of misleading statements, by claiming that it must continually kill to unnaturally reduce the local deer population to 10 per square mile.  It derives this number solely from a study of deer in “forest preserves”. Again, this is false. The 400-acre Ecological Preserve is not a “forest preserve”.           

Vassar Farm, as its name implies, is a disused farm with many fields and some treed areas.  It is not a forest. The Ecological Preserve is also substantially smaller than real “forest preserves”, like Mohonk Preserve and Carey Institute, which are 7000 and 2000 acres, respectively.  The correct science says that Vassar Farm is part of the encompassing suburban environment that can support 70 deer per square mile, not 10. That is why our deer are healthy, there is no “deer overpopulation”, and Vassar’s kills are an unjustified assault on nature.    

The wildlife that range throughout our area are, legally, a public resource that cannot, and do not, belong to Vassar College.  This raises the fundamental question of how a private school that lacks scientific proof, has been permitted by our governmental authorities to repeatedly mass-kill deer.           

Unfortunately, the authorities presumed incorrectly that Vassar College adheres to the highest academic and scientific standards.  By putting Vassar College on a pedestal, the authorities put Vassar College above the law. I am a local lawyer who started Save Our Deer, (SOD), a grassroots organization, to challenge the flagrant favoritism we saw time and again bestowed on Vassar.      

For example, any organization, including municipalities and public universities, that want to shoot deer, must submit an extensive Environmental Impact Statement to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.  Vassar College is exempt from this requirement. In 2010, the City of Poughkeepsie Mayor’s Office allowed Vassar to fire long-range rifles, although gunfire is banned in Citybounds.  The Town of Poughkeepsie refused to enforce its own noise ordinance to prevent Vassar from discharging multiple weapons virtually in people’s backyards.  

SOD brought several lawsuits, along with the non-profit organization In Defense of Animals, to compel the authorities simply to enforce their own regulations.  We failed, as the courts deferred to the decision-making discretion of State and local authorities, as well as to Vassar College. 

It is time for the authorities who represent us, and are charged with safeguarding our public resources, to treat Vassar College equally under the law.  The result would be an end to the school’s arrogant, unscientific, and cruel crusade to virtually eradicate our local deer.     

-Marcy K. Schwartz, Esq.

Save Our Deer – For information on the organization, please email Ms. Schwartz at [email protected].



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