The deer population in greater Ithaca, NY, is substantial. The tony Village of Cayuga Heights, adjacent to the Cornell campus and where many Cornell professors live, has a particular deer problem, and has been exploring ways of reducing the deer population. Because Cayuga Heights is mostly residential, hunting is a limited option, at best. Trapping, use of contraceptive bait, and other options are being explored.

This being Ithaca, nothing is easy, and the debate has been raging at a sometimes nasty pace. You see, the deer have many friends, including a group called, which has a heavily footnoted statement on its home page, as if it were a research paper or law review article. Can’t we just argue until we are red in the face without resort to footnotes?

One nearby resident wrote today that we must focus on ethics to guide the decision:

Feelings, religion, morality, law, cultural convention, and even science fuel many controversies. The local deer problem is no exception. Ethics may offer us a resolution….Applying the utilitarian or common good principles we might arrive at “bait and shoot.” The rights and fairness approaches may argue for fencing. The virtuous approach might support contraception.

We must recognize our self-serving and egocentric motives, which can undermine ethical decision-making. Ethics must be the guiding principle, not expediency. Likewise, an ethical decision on this matter is not necessarily going to be without inconvenience or suffering.

So in the spirit of the controversy, I have composed this poem:

First, they came for the deer, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a deer,
Then they came for the rabbits, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a rabbit,
Then they came for the skunks, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a skunk,
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Oh boy, am I in trouble now. I would be safer taking on religion and Middle East policy, than taking on the deer. Let the hate mail begin.