Should the White Deer of New York's Seneca Army Depot be Saved?

The cold war had many lasting effects, perhaps the oddest of which can still be seen at the Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York. Along with crumbling weapons bunkers, the former 10,600-acre base is home to what is likely the world's largest herd of all-white deer.

After the depot was created in 1941, a 24-mile-long security fence was built, in the process isolating a handful of whitetail deer that carried a recessive gene for all-white coats. The deer began to multiply, and when a limited hunting program open only to Army personnel was started in the 1950s, the base commander initially allowed only brown deer to be harvested. Thus protected, the number of Seneca's "ghost deer" has grown to over 200.

The depot was closed in 1995, and control of the grounds was recently transferred to the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency, which is considering a mix of new uses. This could mean the end of the white herd, which will blend into the surrounding brown deer population once the fence comes down.

Local conservationists say that a 6,500-acre area still enclosed by the fence should be protected as a nature preserve, and suggest that funds could be generated by an annual lottery for coveted permits to hunt white deer.

"These deer are unique," says Dennis Money, director of Seneca White Deer Inc., a preservationist group. "It would be a sin to let this treasure be turned into an industrial site." --LAWRENCE PYNE

WHITE OUT: New York's ghost deer.