Editorial: The Seneca Army Depot-What Fate Awaits?

white deer stares deep into camera

The white deer of Seneca Army Depot are not albinos, but a recessive form of the typically brown-furred white-tailed deer.

A strange thing happened in the former Seneca Army Depot, thanks to the protection of the military. After all the munitions igloos were built, 519 of them to be exact, a 24 mile fence was erected around them for obvious security measures. It was estimated that within this 12 square mile area, that 20-40 whitetail deer, normal brown coloration deer, found themselves in their new home. The deer soon thrived with plenty of good habitat, few natural predators and no human predators. About a decade after the fence was completed, something really unique occurred; a white deer was seen! The acting General ordered the soldiers to protect that white deer and any others that might appear. Soon, the white coloration gene began to express itself even more, and with Army protection, the white deer population rapidly expanded and soon became the world’s largest herd of white deer. Just think, right in our own backyard of New York State!

Today, the fenced area, known as the Conservation Area, is quiet and closed to the public. Its 519 igloos stand in mute testimony to their participation in all the decades of the Cold War and most recently, Desert Storm. The fence, standing but slowly eroding, still contains the deer herd, both brown and white deer, probably 600 in total. Their fate and the fate of all the natural resources of the former Depot, rests in the hands of local politicians of Seneca County. A new Master Plan was recently unveiled which cut the 7500 acres of the Conservation Area to 1450 acres of which several hundred acres are still undergoing hazardous waste remediation. Under this plan, conservation and the white deer are truly doomed.

Seneca White Deer Inc. took on the challenge of trying to protect the natural assets of the Depot because we felt this open space, so unique in the Finger Lakes and containing the world’s largest herd of white deer, should be conserved for all the people of the world to enjoy, both now and for future generations. To drive thru the Depot and see mobs of turkeys, many varieties of raptors and song birds galore as well as wild flowers, wetlands, and the white deer, is a feast for the eyes and the human mind. I often think back to a quote I have kept in my head since the 60’s, “Of what avail are 40 freedoms without a blank spot on a map?” Yes, a blank spot containing a treasure trove of flora and fauna, waiting and hoping for the right decision to be made. I just hope that the right decision, to protect the natural resources of Depot and keep the Conservation Area as large as possible for eco touring and the deer, is made. There is no place like this in the world and once gone will not likely happen again.

Dennis Money
Chair, Seneca White Deer Inc.