April 20, 2011

Cayuga Heights Board of Trustees Approves Deer Reduction Plan

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Efforts to control the deer population in the Village of Cayuga Heights culminated on April 4 when the village’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve a findings statement laying out the board’s proposed deer management program.The findings statement, which analyzes the probable environmental impacts of the program, is the final step in the State Environmental Quality Review process that has been at the center of the deer population discussion, said Beatrice Szekely, Cayuga Heights trustee and deputy mayor.The statement authorizes the village to surgically sterilize 20 to 60 does within a two-year period and subsequently kill the estimated 160 to 200 deer remaining in the village.“Our next step as the board is to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to obtain permits for the actions that we would possibly undertake,” Szekely said.The board decided to adopt a deer management plan in response to the growing deer population within Cayuga Heights in recent years, which, the board determined, has a negative impact on the community’s public health and safety, Szekely said.“The primary problems that the deer cause to the community are damage to garden plants, deer-vehicle accidents and the potential threat of the spread of foreign diseases,” said Prof. Paul Curtis, natural resources, who worked with the Board of Trustees in 2005 to create population estimates of the deer.Instead of resolving the issue, the decision has only escalated the frustration of some members of the community. James LaVeck ’85, co-founder of the website Cayugadeer.org, is among objectors who said that the board has been intentionally misleading the public on the matter.   “The issue has been hotly debated for about two and half years with a lot of participation from the community, and there was a reasonable expectation from all involved that the vote would be held in a public forum and witnessed by many of the people who participated,” LaVeck said. “But they gave no agenda and no indication that this very controversial vote was actually going to be called.”When he attended the April 4 meeting, LaVeck said he was not initially aware that a vote would be held on the findings statement. He added that only four members of the community — including himself — were in attendance.In response to allegations of dishonesty, Szekely said the board was not practicing deceptive tactics, calling the opposition opinion a “minority.”“In our last election, everyone elected to the Board of Trustees had been very clear and open that he or she favored the sterilization and culling of the deer herd, and we have been given a resounding victory,” Szekely said.The controversy over the deer management plan also focused on the board’s proposed method for reducing the deer population — surgical sterilization or death.According to the findings statement, the process of killing the deer would use professional sharpshooters, with the cost of killing each deer estimated to be between $400 and $500. Another alternative is “net and bolt,” the practice of trapping deer and killing them by firing a steel bolt through the animal’s head.“The device kills the animal instantly, allegedly without causing pain … A captive bolt gun is safer than a firearm and is considered to be an effective form of euthanasia by the American Veterinarian Medical Association,” according to the findings statement.The board faces several barriers before proceeding with the plan. In order to handle deer in any manner, the board will need to attain a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, according to Curtis.Additionally, some members of the community are attacking the plan, specifically the “net and bolt” method, for being an excessively brutal technique of controlling the deer population.“It can happen right outside your window at your next-door neighbor’s property. There’s really nothing anything like that that has been imposed on residents before in the Ithaca community. That’s one of the reasons why this has gotten to be so contentious,” LaVeck said.The scientific research the board used to justify its methods has been scrutinized, as well. According to Szekely, the board created the plan by gathering research and working with various agencies such as the Cornell Department of Natural Resources, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Ann Druyan, a resident of Cayuga Heights, has spoken out against the board’s research. Initially suspicious of the board’s rationale, she shared the plan with several experts at Tufts University, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Harvard School of Public Health. She said the overall response was negative.“We have a situation where the trustees have engaged scientists to be paid a lot of money to tell them what they want to hear. That breaks the most fundamental rules of science,” Druyan said.Groups like Cayugadeer.org have offered several alternatives to the proposed use of sharpshooters or the “net and bolt” method. LaVeck suggested that the board encourage residents of Cayuga Heights to erect fences around their gardens to limit the food supply available to deer. This approach would naturally thin out the deer population, LaVeck said.Druyan said the board has so far refused to seriously consider or adopt any additional suggested alternatives.“The plan can be stopped at any time by the trustees simply deciding not to implement it,” LaVeck said. “The public is speaking out fiercely against what they want to do right now. I think as it gets closer to being implemented, a lot of more people are going to get involved.”

Original Author: Dennis Liu