Freedom Threatens New York's White Deer

29 November, 2015

In the 1940s, the U.S. Army fenced 40 kilometers of wilderness in Central New York and turned it into a weapons depot.

By chance, the fencing enclosed a community of rare white deer and protected them from hunters and predators for more than 60 years. The refuge is near Seneca Lake, a resort area.

White deer are rare in most places around the world because they are easy to spot against green or brown forest backgrounds. It makes them a good target for hunters and animal predators like coyotes and wolves.

The white deer lived undisturbed in their enclosure. Their numbers increased as the years passed. The white deer passed along their unique genes to their offspring and thrived. There are about 200 white deer and 600 brown deer on the military base.

The storage area for military weapons stayed active until 2000.

The local newspaper says nuclear weapons were stored at the site during the Cold War. During that time, relations between the U.S. and Russia were tense but did not increase.

After the depot was closed, the Army Corps of Engineers took over, cleaned up the land and made it more useful.

The depot is supposed to be clean and ready for sale next year.

Activists say they want to protect the deer. They say they fear that the fences will be torn down when the property is sold. That might put the white deer in danger.

It will be easy for them to migrate to other areas and be targeted by hunters and predators.

Perhaps some will wander into roads and be killed by cars.

They will not be protected as they have been for over 50 years, activists say.

Dennis Money is working to protect the deer. His group – called Seneca White Deer Incorporated – can protect the deer by buying the property.

If Seneca White Deer buys about 1,000 hectares – the deer will be safe, the group says. It might offer guided tours so visitors from around the world can see the rare deer.

The Seneca County Industrial Development Agency received the rights to the land when the Army withdrew. The agency is a public corporation set up by New York State that promotes business development in the county.

The Army turned parcels of land over to the development agency. The agency sold them to local businesses. A prison and a law-enforcement center have been built on the land.

Bob Aronson is the executive director of the agency. He is trying to sell the rest of the land.

Aronson said farmers want to buy the land for cattle to graze and crops to grow. The profits from the land sale will be invested back into other projects in the county.

Another organization – the Nature Conservancy – also seeks to protect the deer habitat.

Aronson has offered the land to the towns of Romulus and Varick. They are closest to the depot. He said he will charge them one dollar if they manage who gets the land or how it will be used.

White deer are seen as special animals. Native Americans believe they are a blessing.

In Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, hunters and civic workers shot and killed white deer in an effort to reduce the deer population. Local residents were furious.

Scientists say the deer are not albino. They just lack pigment in their fur.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on reporting from the Associated Press. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

acre – n. a measure of land area in the U.S. and Britain that equals 4,840 square yards (about 4,047 square meters)

albino – n. a person or animal born with a medical condition that results in very pale skin, white hair, and pink eyes

bred – v. to produce young animals, birds, etc. : to produce offspring by sexual reproduction

corps – n. an organized part of the military — used in proper names

depot – n. a place where military supplies are kept or where soldiers are trained

enclose – v. to surround something

genes – n. a part of a cell that controls or influences the appearance, growth, etc., of a living thing

installation – n. a place that is used for training soldiers, keeping military supplies and machinery, etc.

offspring – n. the young of an animal or plant

predator – n. an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals : an animal that preys on other animals

storage – n. space where you put things when they are not being used

thrive – v. to grow or develop successfully : to flourish or succeed

unique – v. very special or unusual

wilderness– n. a wild and natural area in which few people live