Free Anita. Spare the deer. Shame on the DEC.

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 evidence 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
(post-sentencing release)

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 Environmental Conservation.

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 to 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, game 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 of CWD.

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 commercial 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 may well serve to check these powerful forces.

Free Anita. Spare the deer. Shame on the DEC.

Sentencing tragic, but good may come of it
(Buffalo LTE)

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 are 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: or

Jim Van Alstine is Assistant Director of Wildlife Watch/C.A.S.H. He is playing an active role in assisting Ms. Depczynski


Contact Us

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561