Anita Depczynski, a septuagenarian in Cheektowaga,
New York may go to jail for the shocking crime of feeding some
apples and cracked corn to deer.
A DEC officer charged Anita with violating the State’s
ban on feeding deer, which was passed just last year with the intention
of preventing the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Examination
of Anita’s case and the DEC deer feeding ban revealed inconsistencies
and the DEC’s trademark mismanagement and pseudo science.
Anita Depczynski being taken
to jail for her defiance of the DEC deer feeding ban. (Photo courtesy
of Bett News)
The feeding ban itself is sweeping and draconian.
People throughout the state are forbidden to feed deer. The overreach
of the regulation ignores the best scientific insights into CWD.
The disease is very similar to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(mad cow disease). Research has focused on a protein gone bad,
a prion, as the source of these diseases, with few, if any, responsible
scientists suggesting that a virus or bacteria is to blame. Consensus
is growing that casual contact holds little risk for the spread
of these prion diseases. Overwhelming evidence is piling up that
ingesting contaminated feed (feed including rendered tissues
from sick animals) is by far the greatest danger. Some anecdotal
exists that confinement and related contact with hair, excrement
or saliva may spread CWD. In these cases the dangerous prion
must already be present on the scene. That’s a key distinction. As
there is no CWD in New York, congregation by deer alone cannot realistically
create a serious CWD threat. On the other hand, feeding processed
pelleted feeds, made by the same companies and plants that make
cattle feed, is a far more realistic start point for a CWD epidemic.
Casting science to the wind, New York’s DEC has seen
fit to ban people, including Anita, from feeding safe foods (corn
and apples) to deer. At the same time, the DEC feeding ban exempts
zoos, game farms and venison production factory farms from the
ban, even though these places routinely feed mass-produced feed
with risky ingredients. So the DEC moves to prosecute a harmless
woman engaged in a harmless practice while the deadly flesh-peddlers
go about business as usual.
Regarding Anita and her particular deer friends,
the DEC again demonstrated its hallmark inconsistency. The DEC,
which supposedly looks after all wildlife in New York, never had
anything to do with the deer of Stiglemeier Park in Cheektowaga
while over the past 30 years suburban sprawl isolated the population,
creating an artificial dependence on feeding by people in the area.
The DEC never sought to aid the deer, rescue the stranded population,
mitigate the effects of sprawl or improve deer safety on roads
surrounding the park. Suddenly, with its ill-advised feeding ban
in hand, the DEC decides the deer need protection from Anita and
others who seek only friendship and assistance for the deer.
Anita has been found guilty of the charge of feeding
deer, but remains defiant. Believing the law to be unjust and inhumane,
Anita plans to refuse to pay any fine or perform any community
service which will likely prompt the court to sentence her to jail.
Wildlife Watch will file an amicus brief on her behalf,
which will shed light on DEC incompetence and may lay groundwork
for an appeal.
In the long run, Wildlife Watch will urge Cheetowaga
to develop a comprehensive, humane deer management plan that may
include contraception and will encourage a deer-safe corridor along
a creek bed to relieve the deer from their effectively captive
status and reintroduce them to more wild areas east of the park.
Wildlife Watch: Deer Lady sentence
reveals DEC failures
Anita Depczynski, lately famous in Western New York
as the Deer Lady, was sentenced to 15 days in jail as a result
of erratic policy and selective enforcement by the Department of
Ms Depczynski chose to take a firm stand for her
deer friends and against unchecked development and a heavy-handed
DEC regulation. She declined community service or a fine and
chose to stick to her principles and do her time rather than yield
the DEC’s irrational deer feeding ban.
Within hours, Ms Depczynski was released pending
appeal as Judge Shirley Troutman found reasonable constitutional
grounds to question the DEC regulation. Ms Depczynski’s refusal
of a fine or community service and willingness to accept a jail
sentence helps to force judicial scrutiny of the DEC rule.
The DEC purports the feeding ban is in place to prevent
the spread of chronic wasting disease. As written, the ban is
so broad that people feeding birds or even home gardeners with compost
piles could run afoul of the DEC. Conversely, venison farms,
parks and roadside zoos that pose far greater risk of introducing
or spreading CWD are exempt from the rule. Ms Depczynski’s case
reveals DEC regulatory overreach, capricious rule-making and
enforcement, and a fundamental lack of scientific understanding
Throughout the trial and sentencing process, Judge
Ronald E. Kmiotek allowed the defense to enter very little regarding
the DEC rule its ill-conceived foundation. This lack of understanding
was revealed in court yesterday as Judge Kmiotek’s comments indicated
a belief that CWD could be casually spread from deer to children,
as if it were bacterial. CWD, like mad cow disease, is caused
by a protein and would normally be introduced through tainted
feeds (such as those used in cattle ranching, venison farms and
game parks). There is no CWD in New York and, even if there were,
the children of Cheektowaga would have to eat the deer to risk
contraction of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the human version of
CWD or mad cow disease).
While it is shocking Ms Depczynski, or anyone, could
go to jail for tossing a bit of corn to some deer, the case provides
opportunity to overturn an ill-conceived DEC rule and shine a
light on that agency’s arrogant overreach and promulgation of flat-earth
thinking. The deer of Cheektowaga and Ms Depczynski are mere
victims of DEC mismanagement and rampant sprawl, but her courage
serve to check these powerful forces.
Free Anita. Spare the deer. Shame
on the DEC.
Sentencing tragic, but good may
come of it
In Cheektowaga, NY, yesterday, Judge Ronald E. Kmiotek
sentenced “Deer Lady” Anita Depczynski to 15 days in jail for
the horrific crime of feeding deer. The streets of Cheektowaga
safe and citizenry have returned to the bustle of life as this
menace was removed from their midst.
Now, in reality, Anita stood on principle and chose
the civil disobedience route to challenge the forces of rampant
sprawl and Department of Environmental Conservation thuggery
on behalf of the deer of Stiglmeier Park who have become stranded
by development. The fact that Anita, or anyone, could face jail
time for scattering a bit of grain to the deer is shocking. It
demonstrates that the heavy hand of the DEC has struck too hard.
Wildlife Watch believes that Anita’s appeal will lift the DEC ban.
The DEC rule alleges to prevent the spread of Chronic
Wasting Disease (CWD), but feeding deer in the park posed no
threat of creating CWD. Conversely, venison farms, game farms, canned
hunt facilities, roadside zoos and even the DEC’s bait and shoot
operations are all exempt from the ban even though they pose a
more considerable CWD risk. The DEC rule subverts the best science
on CWD. The DEC’s rule and its selective enforcement only targets
those who love wildlife.
Anita has shone a light on the threat to wildlife
in our midst. Towns like Cheektowaga must begin to include the
needs of wildlife and concern for habitat in community planning.
Wildlife Watch urges Cheektowaga to include wildlife advocates
and compassionate citizens recognized as legitimate stakeholders
in the planning process. To learn more see: www.all-creatures.org/cash or www.wildwatch.org .
Jim Van Alstine is Assistant Director of Wildlife
Watch/C.A.S.H. He is playing an active role in assisting Ms. Depczynski