Five years ago Vassar began a long-term deer management program at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve (VFEP) to protect the health of that ecosystem. The overabundance of deer there is causing significant ecological damage. The management program includes monitoring the size of the deer population and periodically culling its numbers. Next month wildlife management professionals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct the next cull, and public safety will continue to be the priority. Signs will be posted at the VFEP. Hundreds of neighboring residents, schools, and businesses are being notified by mail, and other public notice is being provided.
“Since 2010 Vassar has safely conducted two successful deer culls, in full compliance with local and state laws. Among options that are available to the college, carefully controlled sharpshooting continues to be the safest way to limit the deer population at the Farm and Preserve to a size that enables the preservation of that diverse ecosystem ” said Marianne H. Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources.
The VFEP plot is a little less than one square mile, and studies show that plant and animal communities have been greatly damaged at other northeastern sites when there are more than 10 deer per square mile. Just before the 2014 spring birthing season the deer population at the VFEP was estimated to be between 48 and 59 per square mile, sourcing both aerial infrared flyover photography and on-the-ground deer fecal pellet counts.
Vassar has documented that seedlings and saplings at the VFEP are nearly eliminated because too many deer rely on that land as their food source. If this is left unchecked a generation of trees will be lost with no young trees to succeed the current stand. Maintaining ecological balance at the VFEP is also essential to the college’s environmental research, teaching, and community educational outreach.
Deer culls at the VFEP are conducted at the time of the year and the day when use of the land is lowest, including only at night when the VFEP is officially closed. Notably, venison from the culled deer will once again be processed and donated to local food pantries -- in this way tens of thousands of meals have already been provided to people in need.
The VFEP website provides further information about the upcoming cull and Vassar’s deer management program, including answers to a series of commonly asked questions. Questions that aren't addressed in this online information can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. More broadly, the website is a great resource about all of the educational and recreational aspects of the VFEP.
The Mohonk Preserve, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and Teatown Lake Reservation are among the other Hudson Valley locales that, like Vassar, manage the deer populations on their lands. All four are also members of the regional Environmental Monitoring and Management Alliance (EMMA), which advances ecological protection and stewardship. In the coming months Vassar and other EMMA members will host a series of public events about regional conservation and wildlife management. The Vassar event will focus on the role that wildlife management plays in maintaining biodiversity. Once finalized these events will be widely announced, including on the VFEP (farm.vassar.edu). and EMMA (emmahv.org) websites.