The Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz and Mohonk Preserve will present a panel discussion Thursday evening on deer management and the ethics of hunting.
The panel aims to address a sometimes contentious debate in the Hudson Valley and throughout the state. Problems arising from an overabundance of deer are a serious concern in the region, and many community members feel strongly about hunting and other methods of animal population control. Benjamin Center Director Gerald Benjamin says the panel is a natural lead up to deer hunting season.
“We have experts on campus, including the college president and an emeritus professor, Carol Rietsma, who’s studied deer browsing, and the president studied… is a deer hunter and has studied.. he’s a wildlife biologist by training, and we have an ethicist who’s interested in this question,” Benjamin says. “So we have the people, we have the research, we have the timing and we have the interest in the community. And our mission is to discuss regional issues so it seemed natural to me.”
SUNY New Paltz Philosophy Department Chair David Elstein will take part. Benjamin says Elstein will provide an environmental ethics viewpoint, and critique recreational hunting. The panel expands upon The Benjamin Center’s 2016 brief, “The Hunt for Balance,” by SUNY New Paltz alumnus Brent Miller.
“There are a lot of different opinions on wildlife management and hunting as a tool for wildlife management,” says Miller. “So one of the driving forces behind wanting to do this paper and then it’s carrying forward into the panel that’s being held is really to just highlight some of those debates that are currently happening and to showcase the role of hunting as a wildlife management tool in a positive light.”
Miller is senior director of the Northeastern States of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. He believes public education on the issue is key, to incentivize hunter access and shed light on conservation funding.
“Most of the state-level conservation funding that state agencies use to manage our fish and wildlife resources is driven entirely by hunting and fishing,” Miller says. “In New York alone, in 2015, over $80 million was contributed to the Department of Environmental Conservation as a direct result of hunting and fishing in the state.”
Zach Cockrum is Northeast regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect wildlife. He says hunters contribute significantly to conservation.
“Their license sales, the proceeds from state hunting licenses go back to managing habitat and, primarily, it’s managed for that species that is being hunted, but it also provides benefits to species across the spectrum,” Cockrum says.
Plus, he says.
“The bottom line is we’ve eliminated a lot of the natural predators for deer,” says Cockrum. “And that has allowed deer populations in many places to go unchecked and hunters can provide that predator role in the natural ecosystem.”
Benjamin says the topic and its offshoots have been in the news recently.
“The New York Times just had a major story on the deer on Staten Island that actually we touch upon in the brief, the approach to dealing with deer overpopulation in heavily populated communities. The New Yorker magazine just had, last week, had an article on deer farming and regulation of deer farming with a particular attention to New York. There’s an emerging discussion of deer harvesting as a commercial activity,” Benjamin says. “So this is a serious public policy issue that impacts the region quite directly and is passionately debated.”
The panel runs from 5 to 7 p.m. at the College Terrace on the SUNY New Paltz campus.