September 20, 2011

Judge Upholds Plan to Cull Deer Population

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State of New York Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey upheld the plan approved by the Village of Cayuga Heights to control the area’s deer population after 12 residents from the area petitioned to annul it.

Four Cornell professors were among the petitioners: Prof. Sandip Tiwari, electrical and computer engineering, Prof. Dominick LaCapra, humanistic studies, Prof. Mary Tabacchi, food and beverage management, and Prof. Sherene Baugher, landscape architecture.

The Village Board of Trustees approved a plan in 2009 to surgically sterilize 20 to 60 does within a two-year period and kill the estimated 160 to 200 deer remaining, according the Village’s finding statement. Professional sharpshooters will cull the latter group of deer by baiting and killing them, according to Cayuga Heights Mayor Kate Supron.

The petitioners opposed to the proposal were motivated by concerns for community safety and the well-being of area wildlife, according to James LaVeck ’85, co-founder of

“Backyard mass slaughter of wildlife — whatever the methods — is unsafe, unethical and completely unnecessary,” LaVeck said. “To carry out the killing, Mayor Supron plans to bring in outside contractors who will be discharging firearms in range of countless family homes, not to mention the Cornell campus. Any weapon capable of killing a large mammal can kill a human as well.”

Additionally, the petitioners raised questions about the practices the village considered as alternatives to managing the deer population. They feared that “net and bolt,” a method of trapping numerous animals in large nets and then shooting steel bolts into their heads, would be an option for the Village, according to a press release by

Cayuga Heights Deputy Mayor Bea Szekely said the advantage of netting and bolting, however, is that it does not require the consent of every resident within a 500-foot radius like the baiting and shooting method does.

LaVeck found victory in the court’s ruling, saying he was pleased it took netting and bolting “off the table and was a major step in the right direction.”

The outcome of the court decision, however, was interpreted differently by each side.

“We see the decision as very positive. The judge’s language was particularly direct in that there was no merit to [the petitioners’] claims. Not only had we done nothing wrong, but we had followed the process precisely, and this plan is entirely in accordance with the [Department of Environmental Conservation] guidelines,” Supron said.

Supron also noted that netting and bolting was never a part of the plan approved by the Board of Trustees, but rather, the DEC said it would issue a permit for netting and bolting last fall.

“We may have to go through an additional State Environmental Quality Review, but it isn’t as if the judge said [the “net and bolt” method] would never happen,” Supron said.

LaVeck expressed disappointment that the concerns of the petitioning community members were not taken more seriously by the court.

“The New York State environmental law is kind of weak. It ensures that judges oversee the procedure, but they don’t do things like review the scientific validity or the wisdom of the decision to make sense of it all. All the judge does is ensure they consulted an expert. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 nationally-known scientists that disagree,” LaVeck said.

Original Author: Christa Nianiatus