The recent surge in public discussion about managing the deer population of Cayuga Heights has included a number of claims that killing deer is counter to the progressive perspective of our populace. While defending Odocoileus virginiana against wildlife management practices is well within the realm of free speech and may help to make sure that best practices are used, it isn’t particularly “progressive.” In fact, protesting the killing of wild animals is near the center of the soul of Victorian sentimentality, while true progressivism emphasizes scientific solutions in the name of reform.

In a balanced New York state ecosystem, wolves and mountain lions would be killing deer and eating them as they did for millennia. Rumors about secret DEC reintroduction programs aside, these top predators have been missing for more than a century and are unlikely to return soon. For much of the intervening hundred years, farming practices eliminated much deer habitat and human predation culled the remaining surplus created by a lack of four-footed predators. With the decline of agricultural acreage and hunting folkways, the deer numbers have rebounded, filling the rural patchwork of woodlot and open field and then spilling into the landscape of perennial gardens and ornamental hedges.

Nineteenth-century animal rights legislation in England was first put in place to protect domesticated animals from mistreatment and later, with help from the likes of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), expanded into the realm of protecting wild animals. In the 20th century, an avalanche of films by Walt Disney and Brit tearjerkers like Ring of Bright Water caused many Americans to embrace the idea that animals should not be killed for any reason, in any manner.

But this focus on animals as attractive, sentient individuals ignores ecological realities. Many recent letters to the editor have suggested that fencing deer out of Cayuga Heights will cause them to simply wander into the surrounding countryside where they will no longer be nuisance animals. Few people seem to realize that the countryside is already full of deer, and they are eating everything there too.

Village of Lansing trustee and conservationist Lynn Leopold has said that our current population of cervine browsers is in the process of eliminating (and locally may already have eliminated) the next generation of vegetation in the local ecosystem. When the existing trees die, there will be no saplings in the understory to replace them. Herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor has been wiped out in many areas.

Deer, like all herbivores, must eat for hours every day in order to get sufficient nutrition (4 to 6 pounds of vegetation per 100 pounds of body weight). According to wildlife biologists, under ordinary circumstances white-tailed deer eat large amounts of relatively few species in the floral assemblage available to them. The fact that the “deer resistant” plant list keeps getting shorter is a sign of the stress caused by overpopulation.

Merely fencing them out, then, is not a humane solution. The population will continue to grow until we begin to see adverse health effects in the deer. Very thin individuals are already in evidence, and it is only a matter of time before contagions like chronic wasting disease (for which there is no cure) appear locally. Death by starvation is surely less humane than either netting and bolting or employing sharpshooters. Anyone who has seen footage of a wolf pack killing a deer cannot possibly argue that the kind of stress induced by netting and bolting is “unnatural.” Wolves begin eating an animal before it is even dead.

The only real solution to “the deer problem” is the restoration of the true balance of nature by reintroduction of top predators. Californians and Coloradans coexist (cautiously) with mountain lions, and wolves still survive (albeit beset by wild dogs) in Italy, Spain and eastern Europe. Why can’t we bring them back to New York State? This is the only truly progressive solution, but it cannot happen overnight and in the meantime the populations must be thinned for their own collective welfare.

The Victorian sensibility  — apparently shared by many Ithacans  — imagines sympathy between Homo sapiens and O. virginiana; it projects a human consciousness into the soul of an animal. A more progressive perspective is to have empathy for these animals and show some concern for the stress engendered by the urban and suburban deer’s constant need to avoid dogs, cars, people, and other deer. In other words, to have a truly progressive view of this issue you should learn more about deer so that you can see the world the way a deer does. And a deer in Cayuga Heights is constantly hungry, forced to eat unpalatable food, and forever interrupted in its browsing by barking dogs, rake-wielding shrub-owners, and deer outside of its social group horning in on its turf. Is this any way to live?

(7) comments


Whoever was responsible for creating this ridiculous so-called poll, did so, very cleverly, having in mind that voters would choose the net-and bolt method, no matter how cruel and barbaric it may be, because they might think that "starving to death" might cause a long and lingering death!
The starving to death mantra is old and stale; have any deer been found in the area suggesting that they starved to death? NO!
Many options are available; the least that could have been done, was to list all other non-lethal alternatives!
Polls like this give all polls a bad reputation!
Congratulations for proving how biased this paper is on this issue!
I, for one, have no intention on voting for one or the other - the choices are ZERO!

Lew Ward

Excellent fact filled editorial! The forests and woodlot regeneration has been severely set back for the last 10-15 years. Some of the seeds of woodland herbaceous plants have long term seed viability but time may be closing in. Certainly, hardwood seedlings are being suppressed by deer browse and you can tell by looking at the 10 year old plants that are 4" high. Coyotes are taking some fawns and already weakened deer but hardly enough.


This is the best editorial on the deer issue in CH I've read.

George Nagle

As I understand, this unsigned editorial is the opinion of the Ithaca Times newspaper.

I'm an ex-hunter, and I have extensive experience with deer and deer management. Based on my review of this editorial, I can only assume that this anonymous author has no credentials or experience with deer management.

My initial response was one of distaste, with the attempt of the author to try to be clever and funny about the inhumane slaughter of sentient animals with the net and bolt killing procedure. In addition, I was very surprised and disappointed with how this editorial demeaned Ithaca Times subscribers who have raised serious concerns about animal cruelty.

The author recommends that the reader should learn more about deer. I recommend that the author practice what he preaches. The author makes one claim after another in this editorial that just isn't true, and I challenge him/her to provide evidence and references for these claims.

(S)he suggests that the Cayuga deer are starving to death, as does the opinion poll. This is absolutely NOT true.

(S)he suggests that the deer have caused serious damage to the ecosystem of Cayuga Heights. There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim.

(S)he claims that the "deer resistant" plant list keeps getting shorter which is a sign of stress caused by overpopulation. Again, where are the facts to support this claim.

(S)he claims that very thin deer are already in evidence. I'm confused. Are the Cayuga Heights deer suffering from thinness or starvation? The Cayuga Heights deer are healthy and doing fine. I would challenge the Ithaca Times to provide evidence of ONE deer that has died in Cayuga Heights from starvation.

(S)he claims that chronic wasting disease is related to undernourished deer. This just isn't true.

I could go on and on challenging so many falsehoods in this editorial.

The deer population is impacted more by the game mismanagement of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) than predators. The DEC spends millions of dollars every year to artificially propagate the deer population for their single digit hunter constituents. So if you want to point a finger at the so called "deer problem", start pointing at the DEC. In addition, there is a healthy predator population of 20,000 to 30,000 coyote in NY. This worries the hunters because they don't want to see the deer population decrease, and in many states they have lobbied to get open hunting season all year long for coyotes.

A deer population will increase until it reaches it's biological carrying capacity, which is dictated by its food resources. Once it reaches that capacity, the deer population stabilizes, it does not go into mass starvation. Please refer to the following studies, ("Reproductive Patterns of White-tailed Deer Related to Nutritional Plane" by Louis Verme, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Journal of Wildlife Management (1969)). ("Reproductive Dynamics Among Disjunct White-tailed Deer Herds in Florida" Journal of Wildlife Management (1985)). Another good article on topic is, "The Paradox of Killing Wildlife to Control Populations" .

I think a responsible editorial, especially one concerning life and death, and animal cruelty, should get its facts straight. In addition, a good editorial should be intellectually honest. The "deer problem" in Cayuga Heights is not starving deer, it's deer browsing for some residents. Killing some deer is not an effective solution to deer browsing. The remaining deer will still eat the residents tulips if they plant them. Killing deer will trigger compensatory reproduction, and you will have just as many deer next year or more. In addition, deer will fill the void from adjacent communities. The only effective solution to deer browsing is planting deer resistant flowers and shrubs, using repellents/deterrents, and fencing.


I am incredulous that Ithaca residents would stand by and allow their leaders to bring to their town such immoral and reprehensible actions. To net and bolt any living being is inhumane beyond measure. Does the mayor need to win so badly that she has removed from her conscience any trace of decency? I pray the judge in the case will see through the rhetoric and even if he has no stake in the deer, that he does have a stake in what is right and what is wrong. There is no sound science to back the trustees' actions. You don't stop deer browse by torturing them - pitting neighbor against neighbor in the process. You learn to outsmart the deer by planting what they don't like to eat - and yes you will have to adapt as they do. You don't kill whatever gets in your way or inconveniences you madam Mayor, rather you allow your residents to fence their gardens should they not want to plant deer resistant plants. Your honor - the judge - please realize that allowing the inhumane killing of these sentient gentle creatures is not the answer. It is unsafe, expensive and ineffective. Humans have a responsibility to co-exist. Please have the integrity and honor to stop the politically motivated slaughter of innocents.


I am an Ithaca resident and read the Ithaca Times. Folks concerned about Ithaca Heights deer population need to be aware that the Department of Environmental Conservation deliberately manages the deer population for "maximum sustained yield." It is done for the benefit of those who get a thrill from hunting and killing deer and to keep selling hunting licenses. The population reduction from hunting in the autumn stimulates breeding so that the deer killed by hunters are replaced when fawns are born in the spring. It's called "scientific game management." Left to their own devices, deer populations tend to remain in balance with their habitat including that provided by farmers and gardeners.


The poll is biased and manipulative, clearly created to mislead readers into believing there are no other viable options to solve the human-deer conflict. Don't be fooled, there ARE alternatives out there, REAL options (where's the evidence of deer dying of starvation and why the Ithaca Times scrutinizes everything that proves there is no justification for the extermination of deer, but fails to question claims from the opposite side?) and truly HUMANE options (net & bolt is barbaric and cruel, and even illegal in the state. What are the special interests pushing for it to be admissible in this case?)

The only true few stories of starving deer I have seen include animals suffering from hunting inflicted wounds (like infections or from arrows that prevent them from reaching or ingesting food) . One more consequence of the use of violent methods of deer control.

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