Connecticut state employees slaughtered 17 deer on Charles Island last week, a move that has angered many animal advocates in the area.
Three biologists who work for the Department of Environmental Protection went to Charles Island and killed the 17 deer because they “were a threat to the habitat” and were going to starve to death for lack of adequate food. The DEP also said that the deer may have been diseased.
The conflict has led to very heated emotions, with spokespeople from the Audubon Society trading subtle barbs with those from the Humane Society, with many other smaller groups weighing in as well.
The island itself is relatively small — 14 acres total — and sits about a half mile off the coast of Connecticut. The deer wind up there because of a sandbar that they can cross to the island at low tide. Deer occasionally wander out to the island and then never come back, even though the food supplies out there are scarce.
The island serves as a nesting ground for herons and egrets and the Audubon Society favored killing the deer. They claim the deer destroy the low vegetation on the island and are “degrading the nesting habitat” of the birds.
Serious questions about motives
The Humane Society has spoken out against the killings, pointing out that herons and egrets nest in older trees and they do so up high. Since deer neither climb trees nor cut them down, their presence should be irrelevant to the birds’ nesting habits.
The other argument, that the deer were starving, seems a flimsy excuse for shooting them. When has it ever been a good idea to save an animal’s life by shooting it? If the deer wander into areas without enough food they will either adapt, move or die out. Trying to micromanage nature’s normal processes rarely works out well for humans and almost never works out well for the animals involved, especially when our “management” techniques involve killing animals en masse.
If it were ever scientifically determined that the deer needed to leave the island, relocation is an option that authorities do not appear to be considering. That’s probably because it’s almost always cheaper and easier to kill an animal than to move it.
A member of a local advocacy group called Friends of Animals asked why the meat from the deer was donated to a food bank if it was potentially diseased and why there was any meat to donate in the first place if the deer were starved.
Human motives questionable
Humans are often guilty of robbing Peter to pay Paul when it comes to animals, choosing selectively to eradicate some animals to protect others. Our decisions are sadly often motivated by a subjective appreciation for certain animals and a disdain for other animals.
The Audubon Society displayed a myopia characteristic of many groups that advocate on behalf of animals: they scapegoated one animal to benefit another. The thing that we always overlook when it comes to these situations is that the justifications we make up for the killing of an animal we may not like today will inevitably be used to kill an animal we might like tomorrow.
Today a deer might be a nuisance to a heron, but how long will it be before a heron is a nuisance to another animal, or a human?
As long as “wildlife management” remains synonymous with “mass slaughter of animals” we’re going to be taking steps backward instead of forward.
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