Dec 16, 2006
(CBS) White deer may be the closest things to mythical unicorns. They are so rare that Native Americas called them 'ghosts,' believing that they had magical powers.
The Seneca Army Depot is home to most of them. CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano reports on their fate.
"Because they are unique, we have a situation here that no one else has in the entire world, almost 300 white animals," says Dennis Money of the Seneca White Deer Group.
White because of a recessive gene, there is an extraordinary herd is tucked away in Seneca County, New York. Most people don't even know the deer exist because they live on a former army depot, surrounded by a 24-mile fence meant to keep intruders out – and the deer in.
"Two white fawns were seen in the 1950s," Money says. "They so captured the heart of the commander that he forbid GI's from shooting any white deer. Those two white fawns raplied multiplied into the world largest herd of white deer."
But the herd is caught in a modern day dilemma. A business group wants to develop 7,500 acres of the former depot while Dennis Money's white deer group wants to turn the land into a nature preserve.
"I think if we can market this as a conservation park, this could be a world treasure, a treasure, a world tourist attraction for upstate New York," Money says.
The depot is New York State's largest block of land available for development, and county officials feel it should stay in experienced hands.
Seneca County is an area that's hurting economically – still trying to recover from massive job losses over the past two decades. That's why local business developers see this army depot as a gold mine for economic development.
"We have sold off the military housing, which is now upscale housing along the water," says Glenn Cooke of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency. "We have a new state prison – it's maximum security – that's created 650 new jobs."
Money, though, contends his group has its own solid business plan – one that's fueled by his own passion.
Under the depot's decommissioning plan, the army maintains the area until 2012, giving county officials time to decide how much land, if any, the conservation group will get.
"We're looking to preserve the deer, but also pursue other activity that won't compromise their viability here," Glenn Cooke says. "We feel we can do both.'
That would be a unique balance that migt be hard to achieve, but it could save the white deer.