By Alex Grabstein
One of my idols is a man by the name of Pete Seeger. He was a folk singer and community activist that prided himself in being a voice for the voiceless. In one of my favorite songs, Seeger sings “Well it’s sailing up my dirty stream / Still I love it and I’ll keep the dream / that one day though maybe not this year / My Hudson River and my country will run clear.” Seeger’s sings the story of pollution in the Hudson River. His lines form a plea for help from a river without a voice.
Binghamton University’s Nature Preserve is another voiceless entity. Our preserve is slowly dying. The preserve has a severe overpopulation of deer that indiscriminately nip at all plant life. This nipping prevents any new growth of plant life. The current foliage in the preserve will not live forever. In a handful of decades most will of the foliage be dead and the rest will be swiftly dying. Forestry experts cannot guess what the preserve will look like in fifty years. They can say for certain that the majority of native trees, shrubs, and other foliage will not survive. All the organisms that rely on the native plants for their ecological needs will either have to successfully adapt or die.
We have the ability to prevent this catastrophe. The preserve needs a reduction of the deer population to begin reversing the damage the deer have caused. The only realistic method to ensure a successful population reduction would be to begin a cull, the baiting and eliminating of a set number of deer. If there were another solution to this issue, I would be the first one to advocate for it. The university has scientifically tested any and all alternatives and the conclusion remains that culling is the most effective solution. I abhor violence, especially the deaths of voiceless creatures. However, we are at a Machiavellian ecological crossroads, and we must choose between the lives of some deer or the future of an entire forest. Morality is a wonderful part of being human. However, morality blinds us to any beneficial long-term future that a morally questionable short-term decision would eventually provide.
This is not the first time campus has discussed the deer overpopulation issue. In 2011, the university put a plan in place to begin an organized deer cull starting in that school year’s winter break. Animal activists, some local, but most from out of Broome County, sued the university to halt the plan. A judge ordered the university to conduct additional studies to estimate the ecological effects of a deer cull. The university complied and conducted the studies. Shortly after, the university finished the necessary studies. The researchers handed the notes to President Stenger shortly after his acceding to the presidency. He had the right to submit the findings of the studies to the court to begin the culling program. It is now 2015 and President Stenger has taken no action in his years in office. Meanwhile, the deer are still slowly killing the preserve’s plants.
Before picking a side on the deer culling, I think people need to gain an understanding for the methodology of culling. Professional hunters generally use culling to reduce the population of a particular nuisance species. In government sponsored culls, the hunters do not kill a species for being a pest; the species must present a tangible danger to its ecosystem for the government to support violent action. The next step in the culling process is to decide on who will be doing the culling. In the case of SUNY Binghamton, campus authorities would choose a professional culling organization to reduce the deer population. The professional hunters would use a system of long-term baiting to bring the largest possible amount of individuals to a particular area. Baiting is usually the most efficient way of shooting deer. It can be violent and considered an inhumane process, but ecologically it is extraordinarily necessary, especially in our preserve. If approved, the culling would occur during winter break, when most of us are home. As a safety precaution the preserve would be closed for a certain amount of time with weeks of due warning to protect any accidental person left in the preserve.
I urge all of you to take a walk around the preserve. The preserve is a stunning sight filled with beautiful natural scenes. Stop on any of the trails and take a look into the woods. Everything may seem fine at first glance. To an avid outdoorsman, the signs are extremely difficult to notice. However, to a forestry expert, the signs of damage are frighteningly apparent. I only learned of them recently. The undergrowth, plants that grow beneath the first leaves, contains only a handful of plant species that the deer do not eat. Random patches of ferns and invasive Asian stilt grasses are the only life left. The patches of ferns are the most telling. In a healthy forest, the ferns would never have a chance to grow because new saplings would be consistently growing to replace any dead trees. In our preserve, the ferns are able to move into the gaps that are formed when a tree dies. Stilt grasses outcompete most undergrowth plants and expand everywhere. In the next fifty years, the preserve will be an endless field of stilt grass and ferns with a handful of trees mixed in.
I cannot say why President Stenger has refused to take action on this matter. I have heard many assumptions from people involved in the movement, but the President has not explained his decision. As students of SUNY Binghamton, we must take a stand. If President Stenger will not take action, we need to compel him to! There are approximately twenty thousand students receiving their educations at this university. Together, with our voices united, we can force action on this issue. We need to protect our nature preserve! We need to give our preserve a voice! My fellow students, stand up, raise your voices, and together let’s change the world.