POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — Central to Vassar’s stated mission for the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve (VFEP) is a commitment as good stewards to “protect and preserve the biological diversity of the land.” Maintaining ecological balance at the Farm and Preserve is also essential to the college’s important environmental research conducted there. Unfortunately, there continues to be considerable deer overpopulation there and the impact of so many deer — particularly due to their feeding needs — is causing significant damage to the forested lands, plant diversity, and the overall ecosystem.
Three years ago the college began a deer management program on the land, which included culling the deer population to a size that promotes the long-term health of all the species in that ecosystem. The necessity of this action was supported by a variety of scientific findings. The college indicated at that time that continued culling would likely be needed as the population size rebounded.
Based upon ongoing studies of the population and its impact, the college intends to conduct its next cull at the Farm and Preserve during the upcoming winter break period.
Ours is just one of numerous locales threatened by this complicated problem, which largely results from the loss of natural predators in areas that were once less developed. Extensive research shows that deer overpopulation severely affects forest ecosystems throughout our region and well beyond. For example, our research shows that the deer overabundance at the VFEP is reducing forest regeneration and plant diversity. This undermines the growth and survival of native herb, shrub, and tree species causing changes in the composition of forests. Changes like these lead to a variety of harmful, cascading effects on native insects, birds, and mammals — including deer — that may be irreversible if left unaddressed.
Our decision to reduce the deer population on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve follows the example of such respected local organizations as the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, in Millbrook, and the Mohonk Preserve, in New Paltz, which for similar reasons have managed the deer population on their properties for many years.
To provide people the opportunity to learn more about the complex issues and considerations involved in our stewardship of the Farm and Preserve, the college has scheduled two public informational events there. The first will be on Monday, November 5 beginning at 4:00pm, and the second will be on Saturday, November 10 beginning at 10:00am. To sign up you can call (845) 437-7400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The events will start in the parking lot just beyond the barns inside the main entrance to the VFEP (intersection of Route 376 and Hooker Avenue). Both events will include a walk in the forest, where damage can be seen firsthand. Details of an additional event are being finalized, and information will be available at the VFEP website (http://farm.vassar.edu).
Valuable information about Vassar’s management of the Farm and Preserve is also available at the website (http://vassar.edu/deer-management). For example, a document there answers a series of commonly asked questions about deer overpopulation on the Farm and Preserve and the steps Vassar is taking to assess and address this situation. Relevant research can also be found there.
As was the case in 2010, experienced wildlife management professionals who will ensure the safety of our neighbors will implement the next deer cull. And once again all of the venison resulting from the cull will be donated to local food pantries. During our previous cull over a ton of venison was donated, providing an estimated 12,000-15,000 meals to people in need.
Neighbors with properties nearest to the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve are being notified by mail of our continuing plans. Portions of the VFEP are in both the Town of Poughkeepsie and the City of Poughkeepsie, and the college has closely consulted with both municipalities. Vassar is also working with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which issues any permit required for a deer cull.
We hope you will attend one of our upcoming events, and seek out the information we’ve provided online. And as our plans proceed we will continue to keep the campus and the community informed.