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Photo by Carl Patrick/ Seneca White Deer Inc.

Rare white deer herd threatened in upstate New York

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In upstate New York, a 200-strong herd of white deer lives in an old military site, frolicking alongside abandoned storage bunkers and a rusty fence that keeps out predators.

The white deer have lived peacefully in the 7,000-acre Seneca Army Depot since it was first erected in the 1940s. They’re one of the largest herds of white deer anywhere in the world.

After decades of living in the space free of predators, the herd is under threat as local officials plan to put the depot up for bid next month, which would mean possibly turning the decommissioned site into farmland.

Now, a local group called the Seneca White Deer Inc. are hoping to save the deer population by transforming the space into a tourist site that will promote the depot’s military history as well as the rare white deer.

Tourists from all over the United States visit the army depot to catch a glimpse of the ivory deer, which are not albino since they only lack pigment in their fur. Living alongside brown deer, the white deer were first spotted in the depot in 1949. Currently, white deer make up 200 of the approximately 800 deer within the depot boundaries.

Out in the wild, white deer are easy targets for both predators and hunters.

The Seneca White Deer Inc.’s plan for an ecotourism park would include a wildlife research centre, wildlife food plots, observation blinds, horse trails, a hotel and conference centre, and a camping area.

In a statement on their website, the Seneca White Deer Inc. writes:

“This type of development would boost the region’s thriving tourism industry, as well as provide a means to manage the unique white deer herd and maintain the fences and habitat that are essential for the survival of the deer.

“Revenue from the tourism operations would provide the resources needed to protect the white deer herd on the depot and make it more available to the public through public facilities and tours.”

The local Seneca County Industrial Development Agency hopes to sell the land to one or several buyers by the end of the year. So far, the greatest interest has been from farmers.

Other interested parties include the nearby towns of Varick and Romulus, where the depot is located, who could share ownership of the land for very cheap.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Varick Town Supervisor Bob Hayssen said if they took ownership, the town would designate 1,000 acres for an eco-park for the white deer.

Currently, the Seneca White Deer Inc. is fundraising to purchase at least 2,000 acres of the depot.