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In Irvington, Citizens Rise Up Against a Burgeoning Deer Population

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March 24, 2024

By Jeff Wilson–

Across the rivertowns, war between residents and a proliferating deer population may be imminent. The latest indicator is in Irvington where local, vocal citizens packed a special March 21 meeting, called by the village’s Board of Trustees, to solicit public input on the best way to save Irvington Woods Park from an out-of-control deer population that is causing significant damage to the ecosystem.

Mayor Jon Siegel began the meeting by summarizing the findings of the Irvington Woods Committee, a 16-member citizens group that has done an exhaustive study of the problem, considering every known method of reducing the numbers. Its recommendation: hunting by bow and arrow.

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The 400-acre Irvington Woods, the largest native wooded parcel south of I-287, has been suffering for years from over-grazing to the point that the park has lost 90% of its understory (the shrubs and small trees beneath the canopy) along with most of the creatures (insects, reptiles and small mammals) that depend on it. The loss of tree seedlings and saplings have prevented the forest from regenerating after losing mature trees to weather, age or disease. The deer population, said the mayor, is fully seven times greater than what experts recommend for a “sustainable, healthy ecosystem.”

The solutions considered by the Committee included contraception (rejected because it is illegal), fencing (expensive and impractical), capture and relocation (traumatic and often fatal to deer) among others, before finally settling on bow hunting. This solution requires a “single, highly qualified professional archer specializing in deer eradication” working from a tree stand 18 to 20 feet off the ground and shooting within a 20-foot range (per New York State regulations).

A diagram of what a deer kill would look like–legally

The hunt, said Siegel, would take place between 4:00 and 9:00 a.m. from October through December. The meat would be donated to area food banks.

Unless the population can be reduced to about 20 deer per square mile (the Committee’s recommendation) the forest faces a 50% reduction in trees by 2050, warned Sigel. He then proceeded to read excerpts of letters, both supporting and opposing the hunt.

Most of those arguments were echoed by the dozens of speakers who came forward to speak within a prescribed three-minute limit. Those who spoke overwhelmingly supported the Committee’s advocacy for the archer. Many spoke from the perspective of a homeowner. The first speaker laid the blame for the problem on the proliferation of new homes in recent years, arguing that construction has reduced the deer’s habitat, thus triggering the domino effect of a shrinking habitat and near-extinction of small animals. The second speaker spoke of her initial enchantment with the graceful, gentle creatures grazing in her yard giving way to aversion as their growing numbers have reached a point where her children don’t want to play outside amid the abundant deer feces, not to mention ticks that have forced her to check her kids before they come inside the house. She drew laughter when she confessed that “If it [hunting] were legal, I would’ve done it on my own property a long time ago.”

There were few exceptions to the overwhelming number of supporters. Opponents argued that bow hunting is barbaric and results in “slow, painful deaths” Shooting the animals with a gun, insisted one dissenter, would be a preferable means of execution and less expensive than the $31,000 annual cost of culling the herd with bows and arrows. “We’re rushing into this extreme measure,” said one speaker, who called for more humane methods such as fencing. “We’re not that kind of town,” claimed another naysayer.

Most who spoke (often to a smattering of applause) presented variations on the theme of bow hunting as the least of all evils. There were numerous laments of the aesthetic loss of lush forest and the shrinking understory in particular. Other arguments ranged from alarm at the drastic decline of animals like owls and foxes, to destruction of gardens to an exponential increase in ticks and the ensuing threat of Lyme disease. One person pointed out that denuding of the forest from deer grazing made way for invasive species like the thorny Japanese barberry bush, which harbors ticks and mice. A mature deer consumes eight percent of its body weight daily, noted one speaker, amounting to 3,000 pounds per year of leaves, flowers, buds, shoots and small trees.

Residents attend a special meeting of the Irvington Board of Trustees on March 21

 One resident raised the prospect of aggressive deer that no longer bother to run away from her but instead “stare me down.” A man spoke of the mutual danger drivers face from deer, drawing chuckles when he quipped that “in Westchester, we can only hunt deer with our cars.” He said that he and his daughter had combined to hit no fewer than five deer, killing three and wounding the other two, leaving them to suffer a painful death in the woods.

The meeting wrapped up after two hours; the final decision on the bow-and-arrow strategy rests with the Board of Trustees, which will hold public meetings, possibly in its April 10 work session or the following one on May 15.

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