Anglers on Seneca Lake’s north shore heard many detonations of munitions on the U.S. Army Depot grounds well before the depot closed at the turn of the century.
Reactions to the sale of 7,000 acres of that property have become explosive because of the habitat and habitants enclosed in that high-fenced area in Seneca County.
When officials designated that area for military testing and munitions storage during the World War II, few could have guessed the fences surrounding that facility would enclose a small herd of white-colored whitetail deer. Just a few years later that herd of white deer expanded. White deer interbred and could not range beyond the protected area into open agricultural and hunting areas.
Not true albino deer with the stunning pink eyes, these deer retain a mainly solid white coat with few piebald (mixed brown and white coloring) in the herd. According to estaimtes herd numbers somewhere at 800, with about 200 having solid white coloration.
Conservationist Dennis Money of Canandaigua has been a close observer of this herd and noted, “These are pure white deer with some of the mature bucks showing a patch of brown hair between their antlers. Otherwise, they are all white. In all the years that I’ve watched these deer, I’ve only seen two piebald deer.”
Since that depot closed in 2000, the lands and buildings have been under the management of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency, which maintains the 24 miles of fencing that surrounds and protects this herd of white deer.
Money saw the need for care and protection of these white deer and formed Seneca White Deer, Inc. shortly after the depot closing. He and area volunteers organized tours of the depot in 2006, 2009 and 2012, which were immediately sold out. Along with area hunters and wildlife watchers, folks from across the state, country and world have shown great interest in these white deer, and the surroundings that also include good wildlife and bird watching.
Problem is, the Seneca County IDA has decided that it can no longer maintain the facility’s lands, buildings, and fencing, and the IDA has opted to sell the depot at auction, with open bidding Dec. 15 until Feb. 29. Offers had been made to purchase the land, mainly for agricultural use, but IDA officials chose to make the property sale public and as transparent as possible.
Money’s group has established an energetic fundraising effort to purchase and then maintain the acreage as a protected area for the white deer. His estimate is to raise $2 million to bid on the 7,000 acres. “We have about a million now and money is coming in every day,” he said of the organization’s management plan to retain the land and allow partnerships to preserve the depot’s resources. Also, it seeks support from the Nature Conservancy, New York State Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the Department of Environmental Conservation to create an historical-based site similar to the nearby Sampson State Park that welcomes visitors to its U.S. Navy facility.
Along with the many army munitions structures, the area has a historic cemetery with the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers, and field areas along rolling hills that provide excellent habitat for whitetail deer and the white deer herd.
Many wildlife preserves have been set up as tourist attractions that preserve animal and bird species in designated areas. Money cited the elk herd in nearby Benezette, Pa., where a tourism park has drawn visitors and, as a result, area businesses such as hotels and restaurants have thrived and land values have increased. Money believes the combination of a military/history site plus the wildlife watching features could be even more successful at the Seneca Army Depot area.
Seneca White Deer Inc., has held an annual appeal near the end of each year. This year, the appeal has a special aura of need. The corportion has a proven record of meeting the needs of these white deer herds and support funds could win out for the deer even if conservationists do not place the highest bid.
A news release from Seneca White Dear Inc., noted: “The IDA has stated that the highest monetary offer will not necessarily win, but the offer that does the most for the local economy will.” Hence, Seneca White Deer has established solid ecotourism programs that include a visitor center, bus and walking tours, birding sites, hiking and horseback riding trails, cross-country skiing areas, environmental education programs, military history exhibits and more activities/sites.
With all these functions, Money believes his group has a chance for a startup tourism business. All donations to this fundraising effort are tax exempt. To contribute, mail to: SWD, 4780 Deuel Road, Canandaigua, N.Y. 14424; call (585) 944-3015 or (585) 394-1287; or visit senecawhitedeer.org.