A county-wide "Deer Management Forum" has been organized by Associate Prof. Bernd Blossey of Cornell's Department of Natural Resources, to take place this Thursday night, Oct. 24th, at 7 PM at Ithaca High School. The forum will feature a one-sided panel with a unified purpose to convince our county that mass-slaughter programs are the way to resolve deer-human conflicts. (See panel members and event details here).
This week’s events, which we will detail below, mark the beginning of a concerted attempt to expand the mass-slaughter mentality of Cayuga Heights to the rest of Tompkins County.
For the last five years, we have seen the damage that has been done to the community by those who wish to advance a backyard deer-shooting program in Cayuga Heights, regardless of all reason, ethics, safety concerns, or community opposition. The dishonesty and cynical tactics of Mayor Kate Supron and her administration have been repeatedly exposed, the scientific basis of their controversial plan has been conclusively discredited, numerous legal interventions have been necessary. Yet, the mayor persists with her single-minded pursuit of a program that the vast majority of landowners have already rejected by not allowing shooting to take place within 500 feet of their homes. Due to this lack of resident consent, the mayor decided last winter to have 95% of the Village’s does surgically sterilized, yet, incredibly she is again seeking to kill the deer this winter.
Taxes have been raised, elections have become contentious, regional and even national media have covered the controversy, and neighbors are now bitterly divided against each other. And still, the battle in Cayuga Heights rages on, with no end in sight.
Concerned citizens need to get informed and work together to ensure that our county is safe-guarded from going down a similarly destructive path. The information below will provide an overview of the players involved and the sometimes hidden agendas of the officials and agencies driving this controversy. We encourage you to share this information with as many people as you can, since countering this destructive initiative is going to take a well-informed populace and an increased level of citizen engagement.
This is very likely going to be a long struggle, given that those advocating for mass killing have institutions with large budgets behind them, and much to gain personally and professionally if their agenda is implemented on a county-wide level. The first step to averting this tragedy is becoming informed and involved.
Here is how you can help:
1. Learn: Familiarize yourself with the the issues by reading the information below.
2. Share: Make others aware of this important information, that has as much to do with open and transparent government in our County as it has to do with human-deer conflicts and how they might be safely, effectively, and compassionately resolved. Please forward the information on this web page, or link to it via social media.
3. Contact your municipal and county representatives. Express your concerns about how this initiative is being handled, and about potential conflicts of interest that threaten to compromise the process. Encourage them to reject the one-sided forum being put on by advocates of mass killing. Ask them to refuse to participate in closed-door meetings where a county-wide deer management policy will be discussed. Encourage your representatives in government to instead be a part of creating a more transparent and balanced context in which our community's viewpoints on this controversial issue can be more fairly explored. Here is a helpful guide that will help you identify who represents you at both the County and Municipal level, and how you can contact them by phone and/or email.
4. Attend and Observe the events on Wednesday and Thursday nights, Oct. 23-24. Listen and critically evaluate the message that is being put out. Be a witness to the tactics being used to skew the public policy discussion, and speak out if you are so inclined.
Destructive and divisive methods of solving problems just create acrimony and an endless cycle of new and often worse problems. Ours is a community renowned for rational public policy debate, the development of creative, non-violent solutions, and advocacy for fairness and justice. Let's do our part to uphold these proud traditions. Working together, we can play an important role in creating a more just, compassionate and sustainable future for us all.
Jenny, James and Eric, on behalf of CayugaDeer.org
Meet the players in the new campaign for county-wide wildlife mass-killing programs
It is important for our community to realize that the key players behind the Cayuga Heights deer-killing program are now trying to take their agenda county-wide. New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation (the DEC), Cornell's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Supron Administration of Cayuga Heights are all at the forefront of this new initiative, following 5 years of promoting their agendas in Cayuga Heights. In fact, every member of the panel our community will be hearing from on Thursday night is an advocate of the mass-killing of deer. Several members of this panel also have a personal financial or political interest in the propagation of mass-killing programs in our county.
History is already beginning to repeat itself.
Back in 2008, Cayuga Heights commenced its "deer management" discussions with closed-door meetings and a deer committee composed entirely of individuals who openly admitted that they had decided in advance to support a mass-killing program. In much the same way, this new county-wide initiative includes “an invitation-only lunch meeting for municipal leaders,” who apparently will be meeting behind closed doors at Cornell to discuss “coordinated deer management in Tompkins County” (reported in the Lansing Star and Cornell Alumni Magazine).
CRITICAL QUESTION: Doesn't this violate the spirit, if not the letter, of our state's open meetings laws? This is not the way public policy is normally discussed in our county. Why is this issue being handled differently?
All the Experts Agree… Or Do They?
Thursday night's panelists will attempt to convince our county’s citizens that "all the experts agree" the mass-killing of deer is a pressing need, again following the Cayuga Heights example of offering up panels and committees that are made to appear neutral and objective, but which in fact have a predetermined agenda. Check out the opening sentence of the invitation to the community to attend this event. It begins not only with spin, but with misleading language designed to scare the public into accepting the panel’s pre-determined conclusion that deer must be killed:
"The continued high abundance of deer in urban, suburban and rural areas in Tompkins County is of great concern to many citizens due to Lyme disease, deer vehicle collisions, ecological, agricultural and ornamental damage."
CRITICAL FACT: Lyme disease
Lyme disease is an important issue that needs to be addressed by government at every level. There are definitely effective measures that can help. But the argument that mass-slaughtering deer is one of them was debunked years ago by scientists who are national leaders in their fields, including those at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. (See more details below).
CRITICAL FACT: Deer-vehicle collisions
Insurance companies report that deer-car collisions spike 300-400% in some communities on the first weekend of hunting season, likely due to frightened, injured, and disoriented deer deviating from their usual paths of transit and scattering into roadways. Older deer, who would be indiscriminately killed as part of a mass-slaughter program, are known to be more skillful in crossing roads and avoiding cars, as well as leading the younger deer to safety. Ironically, some of the very people advocating for mass killing deer have disparaged proven technology for reducing deer-car collisions. (More information below)
CRITICAL FACT: Ornamental plants
There are cost-effective and safe methods of protecting ornamental plants, such as fencing (more info below). In Cayuga Heights, the same officials who advocated for the mass killing of deer fought for years to deny their residents the same fencing options available to their neighbors in the Town and the City of Ithaca.
CRITICAL QUESTION: Why is Cornell putting out spin, assembling one-sided panels, and hosting closed-door, invitation-only events to discuss an issue of public policy that will affect Tompkins County? And if the Department of Natural Resources stands to gain financially from future deer management contracts with the County, as it already has in Cayuga Heights, why is this conflict of interest not being disclosed? Can the faculty and staff of Cornell’s DNR really be seen as disinterested parties in this community dialogue?
$275,000 Mystery in Cayuga Heights
One of the speakers who will be appearing on the one-sided panel Thursday night is Paul Curtis, an associate professor in Cornell’s DNR and the architect of Cayuga Heights' deer-killing plan. According to the Village's "Cost Analysis," Curtis’s department at Cornell was slated to receive up to $275,000 over the course of several years for vaguely defined duties that the Cayuga Heights Trustees refused to specify, despite several public inquiries by their constituents (see The $275,000 Mystery In Cayuga Heights). Right up until the day the trustees voted unanimously to approve the nearly one million dollar killing plan, Prof. Curtis never disclosed his conflict of interest to the public, despite the fact that he was repeatedly presented by the Cayuga Heights government as an objective Cornell expert.
Equally troubling, Prof. Curtis grossly misrepresented the peer-reviewed research of world-renowned scientist (and Cornell Veterinary College PhD graduate) Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, who happens to be the chief developer of a non-lethal wildlife fertility control technique called “immunocontraception." The misinformation put forth by Prof. Curtis was then actively propagated by Cayuga Heights officials to their constituents, despite its gross inaccuracy being pointed out to them in writing on numerous occasions by local citizens, including a refutation by Dr. Kirkpatrick himself. This misinformation, which Curtis never corrected, contributed to the widespread belief that his proposal was the only viable option for Cayuga Heights. What was not made clear to the public when Prof. Curtis was being presented as a Cornell expert was that, if his plan were selected, it would lead to a lucrative multi-year consulting contract for his department at Cornell, funded by Village taxpayers.
CRITICAL FACT: No-bid contracts
To date, approximately $27,000 has been paid to Prof. Curtis's Department of Natural Resources at Cornell through no-bid contracts with Cayuga Heights, and another $48,000 is estimated to be paid in the coming year. Village taxes were estimated to be increased by 5% in order to pay for the plan architected by Prof. Curtis, which is also the basis for reinvigorated attempts to pursue the mass killing of Cayuga Heights deer in 2013.
Setting the Stage for Mass Killing
To kick off this new county-wide initiative, the Cornell Plantations is hosting Jim Sterba, the author of a book called “Nature Wars,” as part of their speaking series on Wednesday night. Mr. Sterba, whose bio focuses on his work as a journalist covering numerous wars, starting with Vietnam, ironically takes the position that the "solution" to human conflicts with a variety of wildlife species is mass-killing. Deer, geese, wild turkeys — even feral cats — are described in Mr. Sterba's book in derogatory language that eerily echoes that used to marginalize human populations as a prelude to ethnic cleansing. Canada geese are "lawn carp" that "eat and defecate, eat and defecate." Wild turkeys are depicted as roving in "gangs" that voraciously gobble up seeds put in the ground by farmers. Deer and feral cats are given even greater contempt, second only to that Mr. Sterba reserves for those who question his vision of a world that can only be put back into balance by the mass killing of wildlife.
In his book, Mr. Sterba suggests that, while animals have sensations, the idea that they are capable of having perceptions, thoughts, and yes, emotions, are "distortions" concocted by Hollywood filmmakers going all the way back to Walt Disney's 1942 film, "Bambi." Yet, contradicting himself, he goes on at great lengths about the clever ways beavers "engineer" the landscape, a level of activity that clearly takes complex cognitive abilities.
Apparently unaware of the decades of research that demonstrates the depth of animal emotion and cognition, Mr. Sterba falls back on references to a film from the 1940's, laying the charge of "anthropomorphizing" on anyone who references capabilities and capacities that animals have been scientifically proven to possess. His message is problematic because it minimizes the moral weight of bringing mass death to those of other species, and repeatedly promotes the false idea that non-violent alternatives are fanciful pipedreams concocted by those who don't understand how nature really works. He describes the No Kill movement as "a ruse that allowed many shelters to skim off the most adoptable pets, compile favorable statistics, and use them to reap more contributions." Here in Tompkins County, the achievements of our own SPCA reveal the falsity of this statement. We have seen with our own eyes that the No Kill techniques developed by Nathan Winograd and others drastically lowered kill rates for both dogs and cats county-wide, and that our community is so much better for it.
While heaping criticism on advocates of trap, neuter, release (TNR) programs for non-socialized cats, Mr. Sterba expresses admiration for clever hunting groups that stealthily kill cats outside the knowledge of animal advocates in order to increase the hatching success rates of ducklings, which these same hunters will later seek to shoot down from the sky. In short, the credibility of Mr. Sterba's work is undermined by his hostility toward "nuisance" animals and those who advocate for them, and by his uncritical admiration for nearly all those who kill animals in numbers large and small. In many ways, his book is a useful case study about the mentality that has created a world in which goose poop on golf courses is perceived as justifying the mass killing of animals, yet the toxic pesticides and herbicides that saturate acres of golf course fairways and greens flow into our waterways unseen and unquestioned, degrading the health and quality of life of us all.
Manufacturing consent with a one-sided panel and suppression of dissenting views
Following Mr. Sterba's Wednesday night lecture and his participation in the ensuing closed-door meeting(s) with local legislators, he will be featured on Thursday night's one-sided panel. The purpose of this event, according to its organizer Benrd Blossey of Cornell's DNR, is to "allow members of the communities to ask questions of an assembled panel representing local, regional and national expertise."
Curtis and Sterba will be joined on the panel by Cayuga Heights Mayor Kate Supron, who is now infamous in our region for her relentless pursuit of a deer-killing program. Supron chaired the openly biased deer committee in Cayuga Heights before being appointed as a trustee, and then becoming mayor. Over the last five years, in all these capacities, she has led the charge to perform backyard mass slaughter of deer in our community's residential neighborhoods, despite overwhelming evidence refuting the scientific basis of her plan and an enormous outpouring of public opposition to carrying out mass-shooting of deer in close proximity to residences and roadways. The mayor's killing plan has thus far been blocked largely due to the concerted efforts of citizen activists supported by numerous Cornell faculty, the expert opinions of national-level scientists, and more than 14,000 signatories of an online petition.
In pursuit of its deer-killing plan, Mayor Supron's administration has committed numerous violations of NY State's Open Meetings Law and Freedom of Information laws (FOIL). Most recently, a court order in March forced the release of documents Mayor Supron had been withholding for months that prove she misled the public and the media by repeatedly claiming that just 10% of landowners prevented her backyard deer killing program from moving forward in 2012. The data she was forced to release showed that, in fact, the owners of 75% of the properties in Cayuga Heights withheld permission to shoot deer on their land or near their homes. Learn more
CRITICAL QUESTION: Why not give alternatives a chance?
Last year, the Cayuga Heights government adopted a deer sterilization program, and the year before that, it relaxed the Village’s fencing ordinances. Each of these measures is likely to reduce human-deer conflicts, and the two together have the potential to end the controversy in Cayuga Heights once and for all. Why not let these non-lethal approaches that have just been put in place play out? Instead, with the urging and encouragement of staff members of Cornell’s DNR and New York State’s DEC, Mayor Kate Supron, having spent over $150,000 of tax payer money to White Buffalo to sterilize 95% of the does in Cayuga Heights less than one year ago, is once again seeking resident permissions to carry out backyard shooting, needlessly reigniting the community conflict.
Understanding the Causes of the DEC's Bias Toward Mass Killing of Wildlife
This brings us to the next one-sided panelist who will be addressing the public on Thursday: Jeremy Hurst of the Wildlife Bureau of the DEC, a division whose budget is substantially funded by hunting license fees and the federal gun tax. This financial connection to hunting interests keeps the Wildlife Bureau beholden to the hunting/trapping/fishing industry, despite the fact that less than 5% of our state's residents participate in these activities. As a result, staff members of this DEC division are often motivated to behave like lobbyists for the hunting industry, devoting almost no time and resources to the concerns of the more than 95% of us who may view our state's wildlife from a perspective other than their value as a "game" species.
Evidence for the DEC's bias is plentiful. Non-lethal approaches to deer management are disparaged by the DEC and its academic affiliates, such as Prof. Paul Curtis, regardless of their proven effectiveness or the fact that many of our state's citizens would prefer non-violent alternatives to baiting and shooting deer, or netting these animals and driving steel bolts into their brains. In the face of considerable scientific and ethical arguments in favor of non-lethal approaches, DEC representatives have been known to refer, like Mr. Sterba, to the "Bambi-ization" of deer. This is a rather obvious attempt by the DEC to marginalize those who question their methods, and only serves as a distraction from questions that DEC staff members avoid answering.
CRITICAL QUESTION: Why the Myopia around Mass Killing?
Instead of acknowledging the evolution of our culture's understanding of the ethics of the human-animal relationship, and accepting that more communities are seeking to address human-wildlife conflicts in a non-violent way, why is the DEC still aggressively promoting the archaic approach of mass-killing?
DEC representatives now advocate for changing state ordinances so that deadly weapons can be discharged as close as 150 feet from residential dwellings without permission from property owners. The current rule sets that limit at 500 feet, and this makes it harder for the DEC and its municipal allies, like Cayuga Heights Mayor Kate Supron, to carry out mass killing programs in densely-settled communities filled with people who won't allow animal killing on their properties or near their homes. Ethical considerations aside, the risks associated with these programs are too high for family members, companion animals, bikers, joggers, drivers and others who may fall within range of a poorly-aimed bullet or arrow or malfunctioning weapon.
The tragedy is that the DEC, in blind pursuit of an agenda that is out of step with the times, disparages conflict-reduction techniques that don't include killing animals as a key component. By advocating behind the scenes for legistlators to pursue a mass killing program (see letter from Wildlife Bureau Chief to Mayor Supron "urging" the pursuit of killing deer despite a lack of support from Village landowners), the DEC needlessly pushes communities into years-long conflicts, which ultimately consume the time, financial resources and good will that could have been better spent on pursuing pragmatic, sustainable and non-controversial methods of reducing the impact of human-wildlife conflicts, an approach which would offer the most direct assistance to the individuals experiencing the most conflict.
Who Will be Noticeably Absent from Thursday's One-sided Panel?
You’ll recall that the premise of Blossey's invitation to Thursday’s panel discussion is that a county-wide deer “management” (aka mass-killing) initiative will prevent Lyme disease, preserve biodiversity, and reduce the rate of deer-vehicle collisions. Given this premise, the panel Blossey has assembled is conspicuously missing those with national-level scientific expertise in areas relevant to his justifications for mass-slaughter.
For example, imagine what a group of Tompkins County residents might learn from:
• An expert on Lyme disease, such as Dr. Tamara Awerbuch of the Harvard School of Public Health, who emphatically states that "there is NO LINEAR correlation between killing deer and the tick population," and that there is "no scientific justification" for killing deer to reduce the risk of Lyme disease. Confirming her statement is one of the nation's leading authorities on Lyme disease, Dr. Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and author of the 2011 book "Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System." Dr. Ostfeld, who found parts of the Cayuga Heights deer-killing plan "misleading," writes, "A comprehensive review of the scientific literature on the relationship between numbers of deer and numbers of ticks reveals that the majority of studies find no statistical correlation at all," and that, "adult backlegged ticks feed on at least 27 different species of mammals and are not specialist on white-tailed deer," and "no scientific data support the existence of a deer density threshold below which ticks decline to low numbers."
• An expert on non-lethal forms of deer population control, such as Dr. Allen Rutberg of the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, who urges communities to study specific impacts caused by deer and how to mitigate those impacts, rather than focusing on the deer population level as the source of the problem. Dr. Rutberg is currently overseeing a non-lethal form of population reduction in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, another community that rejected DEC-promoted mass-killing.
• An expert on biodiversity, such Dr. Oswald Schmitz of Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, who states, "deer populations may be the consequence of human impacts on the landscape rather than a cause of impacts to humans," and that the Village of Cayuga Heights' and Paul Curtis's "claim that the deer population is still prodigiously growing reflects an incomplete understanding about the population dynamics on this landscape."
Or Dr. Katherine Greenwald, an ecologist in the Biology Department at Eastern Michigan University, whose peer-reviewed research concluded that, "management actions taken to regulate deer densities could have the unintended effect of reducing local animal diversity." Greenwald warns, “We need to be aware of what’s happening in these forest ecosystems. Culling deer may cascade into affecting plants, salamanders, and other creatures in ways we can’t even imagine. So before we start removing deer we should study what’s really happening in these areas because there are a whole host of other issues that go along with culling."
• A professional with experience in reducing deer-car collisions, such as the Owego, NY traffic engineer, George Gabello, who installed Strieter-Lite roadside reflectors along stretches of road where deer-car collisions were particularly high, and saw a nearly 100% reduction in collisions as a result. This technology, subsidized by the Federal government, has a proven track record of 78-90% effectiveness, and is successfully utilized in several other parts of NY state. Ironically, these unobtrusive roadside reflectors were summarily rejected by members of the Cayuga Heights deer committee (chaired by Kate Supron) for "aesthetic reasons," which apparently trumped the committee’s alleged concern about deer-vehicle collisions.
You can read more about these and other expert opinions here.
And what about the “moderator”?
CRITICAL QUESTION: Why the suppression of dissenting views?
Why have members of our community been prohibited from being able to directly ask questions of panels assembled to discuss the deer issue? Instead, at previous forums like these, a “moderator” is selected by the biased interests hosting the forum, who then decides which written questions are allowed to be asked. How can we expect to have a fair and open exchange if the community dialogue is being throttled due to a one-sided panel being spoon-fed questions that their chosen moderator has censored for their benefit?
Mr. Blossey’s chosen moderator for Thursday's one-sided panel is Sharon Anderson of Cornell’s Cooperative Extension. Anderson is the same moderator who community members complained censored their legitimate questions at the last public forum on the deer issue. That event was held at the Kendal retirement community in 2012, right before the Cayuga Heights mayoral election. It was organized by Mayor Supron and featured herself, Paul Curtis, and others in favor of mass-killing programs, including the DEC’s Wildlife Bureau Chief, Gordon Batcheller. Given that this was another one-sided panel, it was important that those in the community who questioned the mass-killing approach be given a chance to have their valid concerns addressed in this rare moment of public accountability. Instead, many of the most critical questions were not posed to the panel by Ms. Anderson, which had the effect of shielding panelists from public scrutiny.
If the DEC and Cornell’s DNR are so confident their preferred killing programs are the “solution” to our community’s deer conflicts, they should not be threatened by having alternative voices on their panel, or by having people ask them questions directly, without the intervention of a moderator who is viewed as biased by many in our community. Tompkins County is full of well spoken, critically thinking adults who are capable of considering multiple points of view at one time. Our citizens can be trusted to ask insightful questions and then come to their own conclusions. Nobody in our community is served by a process so rife with control and bias.