March 26, 2014

Ithacans Criticize University for ‘Upsetting’ Deer Killings

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Updated Thursday with additional information from the University

Ithaca residents are criticizing Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources staff for allegedly using inhumane methods to control the local deer population.

“Cayuga Deer” — a group of concerned Ithaca residents that is taking action against unethical wildlife control practices — recently learned of what they called “upsetting” actions being taken by the Natural Resources department from a letter that had been sent from the University’s Office of Community Relations to multiple Ithaca public officials, according to the Cayuga Deer website.

However, the University said in a press release Tuesday that it has “long maintained” a deer research and management program to address “chronic deer overpopulation on its lands.”

The program — which is supervised by faculty researchers and safety experts — is important to protect agriculture research, the health and safety of the Cornell community and the Ithaca area from “damage from the overpopulated deer herd resident in our lands,” according to a University press release.

“At a smaller set of campus locations where deer traffic is high, researchers use collapsible Clover traps’ to humanely capture and then euthanize deer,” the press release said. “Traps have been used to capture deer at Cornell since 1997.”

It added that the deer management program at Cornell is completely safe for humans and has maintained a “spotless” safety record since it was developed.

“These non-chemical methods of deer harvesting also make it possible for researchers to advance their knowledge of deer physiology and habits and for meat to be donated for human consumption,” the release said.

Cayuga Deer’s website says that they learned from multiple sources that these methods include “net and bolt” killings, which involve trapping the deer and then killing them with bolt guns.

According to Cayuga Deer, this population control technique is “widely condemned by veterinary experts and humane societies for its egregious cruelty” and has been occurring at Cornell with the support and recommendations of staff members of the University’s Department of Natural Resources.

The University, however, said that methods used by Cornell researchers have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the American Veterinary Medical Association and Cornell’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

James LaVeck ’85, a member of Cayuga Deer, said he found the deer killings to be particularly upsetting.

“These things are even more upsetting with the knowledge that the female deer who are being killed by Cornell faculty members and staff at this time of year are likely to be pregnant,” he said. “Many people are horrified when they … see a deer running through one’s yard with an arrow sticking out of her neck, which occurred in Cayuga Heights last week.”

The University is able to trap and bolt deer due to a nuisance permit from New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation that grants Cornell the permission to kill 40 deer during the month of March, according to Cayuga Deer’s website.

In order to combat these deer management practices, Cayuga Deer started a petition which, according to LaVeck, garnered over 1,000 signatures within its first 24 hours. As of Wednesday, the petition had approximately 2,500 signatures.

LaVeck said he hopes this issue will help to launch a “more inclusive” and “transparent” decision-making process.

“We are a community with a track record of developing groundbreaking alternatives to violence, and this is a great opportunity to access that public wisdom,” he said.