The 7,000-acre Seneca Army Depot in New York will be put up for bid next month and locals are concerned that the sale could mean an end to the unique white deer herd, which has thrived in the fenced-in munitions storage facility, according to the Associated Press.
Twenty-four miles of chain-link fence was put up around the perimeter of the depot when it was built in 1941 and it captured several dozen wild white-tailed deer in the process. Some were white deer — natural genetic variants of the normal brown ones.
Undisturbed, the white deer herd has grown to an estimated 200 in number alongside 600 normal-colored brown deer.
“They’re a huge tourist attraction,” Lisette Wilson, who runs a farm store and bakery with her husband across the highway from the depot fence, told the Associated Press. “People are astonished. It’s quite the spectacle for them.”
Wilson said the store’s most popular product is White Deer Poop, a confection made of white chocolate, almonds and cranberries.
“I see white deer every day,” Wilson said. “They’re beautiful animals. I’m very concerned they’ll lose their habitat when the property is sold.”Local residents are hoping to save the white deer by turning the property into a world-class tourist attraction featuring its military history and unusual wildlife.
The Nature Conservancy is also looking into preserving the largely undeveloped landscape, the Associated Press reported.
“When we ran bus tours on a limited basis between 2006 and 2012, we had people come from all over the United States to see the deer,” Dennis Money of Seneca White Deer Inc. told the Associated Press. “People are enchanted by them.”
The depot, completed a month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, provided for the ordnance storage needs of the nation for 60 years. It covered an area larger than the city of Syracuse, 40 miles to the northeast, and stored bombs and ammunition in 500 steel-and-concrete bunkers called igloos.
The Army Corps of Engineers has maintained the site during environmental cleanup operations since the depot closed in 2000. The Army plans to finish cleanup work by the end of next year, leaving the land and its deer under the care of new owners.
Bob Aronson, executive director of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency, said his goal is to sell the whole parcel by the end of the year to one or several buyers. All offers will be considered, he said, noting that the greatest interest has been from farmers who would graze cattle and grow crops.
Seneca White Deer has launched a fundraising drive in hopes of buying at least 2,000 to 3,000 acres, if not the whole site, for a tourist attraction and wildlife preserve, Money said.
The towns of Varick and Romulus, in which the depot is located, are also considering an offer from Aronson to buy the land within their borders for a dollar if they want to market it themselves.
“If we get it,” Varick town supervisor Bob Hayssen told the Associated Press, “we’ll earmark 1,000 acres as an eco-park for the white deer.”
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