Hundreds of white white-tailed deer may lose their accidental preserve at an old Army depot.
By Vicki Croke
They’re not albinos. They’re not an endangered species. They are white white-tailed deer, a natural variation of regular brown white-tailed deer.
And the ghostly animals are roaming by the hundreds through the woodlands of a fenced-in and disused Army depot in Seneca County, New York, where they have become the subject of some debate: What will happen to these beautiful creatures next month when their accidental refuge goes up for sale?
According to Mary Esch, writing for the Associated Press:
The white deer — a genetic quirk that developed naturally on the 7,000-acre, fenced-in expanse — have thrived, even as the depot itself has transitioned from one of the most important Cold War storehouses of bombs and ammunition to a decommissioned relic.
Now, as local officials seek to put the old Seneca Army Depot up for bids next month, there is concern that the sale could also mean the end of the line for the unusual white deer. A group of residents dedicated to saving the animals has proposed turning the old depot into a world-class tourist attraction to show off both its rich military history and its unusual wildlife. The Nature Conservancy also is looking at options for preserving the largely undeveloped landscape.
“When we ran bus tours on a limited basis between 2006 and 2012, we had people come from all over the United States to see the deer,” said Dennis Money of Seneca White Deer Inc. “People are enchanted by them.”
Miles of chain-link fencing enclosed the depot when it was built in 1941, and inadvertently trapped and protected the white deer. It’s estimated that there are about 200 of them there now—likely the largest concentration of them anywhere. There are even more regular brown white-tailed deer on the land too (about 600), but the white deer are more conspicuous. They’ve thrived here–kept fairly safe from both traffic and hunters. But “if buyers take down the fence,” the AP says, “the white deer aren’t expected to last long.”
The base was closed down between 1995 and 2000, and, according to USA Today, became a magnet for tourists:
Passing traffic often stops on the roads around the old base any time one of the ghostly deer is close enough to the road to be seen. Getting into the base is near impossible, though in 2006, 2009 and 2012, Seneca White Deer got clearance to run limited bus tours that turned out to be hugely successful. In 2012, Money said, “We had to turn hundreds away.”
Those tourists might just save the deer. According to the AP:
Jim Howe, director of The Nature Conservancy’s regional chapter, said the preservation group is conferring with several groups about protecting the former depot’s wildlife habitat while opening it for recreation, tourism and sustainable economic development.
Another hope for the deer has come from [an] offer [from Bob Aronson, executive director of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency,] to the towns of Varick and Romulus, where the depot lies, that they can have the land within their borders for a dollar if they want to market it themselves.
Varick Town Supervisor Bob Hayssen said his town is considering that deal.
“If we get it,” he said, “we’ll earmark 1,000 acres as an eco-park for the white deer.”