City Council voted down a resolution Monday that would have directed the city attorney to investigate the actions of the protesters who sought to disrupt Ann Arbor’s annual deer cull. The measure, which was defeated in a 6-5 vote, would have required the city attorney to “take any and all appropriate responsive actions, including issuance of citations and the filing of lawsuits seeking an injunction or such other relief that the city attorney determines appropriate.”
Ann Arbor established its deer management program in late August of 2015 in response to resident complaints about overgrazing and worries about deer-vehicle collisions. Since then, municipal deer management efforts have racked up costs to the city of more than half a million dollars, with City Council approving more than $182,000 in continued spending in November. According to the city, a total of 274 have been killed and 72 surgically sterilized.
Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, said there was an urgent need for the city to intervene.
“I’m bringing forward this resolution to address concerns that have been brought to our attention regarding protesters who have been interfering,” Lumm said. “They haven’t been peacefully demonstrating, they have actually stopped and prohibited our contractor White Buffalo from performing their culling contracted work on properties that have been identified for culling.”
The city hired Connecticut-based White Buffalo Inc. to execute its deer management program in 2016. Since this year’s cull began at the start of the month, the company’s sharpshooters have taken up positions on public and private land around Ann Arbor, including land owned by the University of Michigan, and will remained stationed there until Jan. 27.
Protesters from groups like Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife in Nature and Ann Arbor Non-Lethal Deer Management have held demonstrations by the sharpshooters’ perches.
Lumm said the protesters have worked to disrupt the cull and make the city-hired hunters less effective.
“The protesters are preventing them again from conducting this work effectively,” Lumm said. “The taxpayers are on the hook paying for this contract and the result has been that they will not perform the work that they have been contracted to perform.”
Lisa Abrams of FAAWN said the group’s protests were lawful, and thanked the councilmembers who voted against Lumm’s resolution.
“The fact is that our protests have been peaceful,” Abrams said. “We have been on the sidewalk every single time, or we have gotten the permission of private residents to be on their private property, so every single time we have been peaceful and we are expressing our First Amendment right to free speech, and thank you for protecting that so we are not living in a gestapo state.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor has repeatedly opposed the deer cull and was the lone vote against it when the program was adopted in 2015, but he said his opposition was not the reason why he did not support Lumm’s resolution.
“Civil disobedience involves disobedience and occasional violation of the law,” Taylor said. “We have protests in the streets without permits on occasion and I don’t want to get into a situation where nonviolent protest results in legal action.”
In an email interview, Bernie Banet of Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, a group that supports the city’s deer management efforts, said the protesters purposefully tried to impede the success of the cull.
“The small band of ‘protesters’ seeking to protect deer have been very successfully interfering with this year's culls, from what I hear,” Banet wrote. “By congregating at the cull sites and, they claim, exercising their free speech rights they are successfully scaring away the deer. That is, in my opinion, their transparent intention, not simply to protest. This effect on the planned culls can be construed as illegal interference with a lawful animal management program.”
Banet criticized City Council for failing to pass the resolution.
“This does not bode well for the City going forward being able to protect its residents and its parks and neighborhoods from the impact of deer overabundance: collisions with deer on the roads, tick-borne illnesses facilitated by a dense deer population, interference with forest regeneration, and destruction of plantings throughout the city,” he wrote. “A better balance between the right to protest and a government's right to protect its citizens from an animal menace must be found.”
Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, voted against the measure. He said he did not want to discuss his personal beliefs regarding the cull but defended the protesters.
“I really believe that the opposition to this cull is legitimate,” he said. “… They feel that it’s not the right thing to be doing to send guns into our parks, that it’s not necessary, that we should live and let live. I think that these are very valid arguments, and the idea of banging pots and pans and shining lights and yelling and exhibiting other forms of civil disobedience, well, it’s been famously said that the riot is the language of the unheard, and I believe that these people do feel unheard.”
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said one of his primary obligations as an elected official was to make sure residents’ tax dollars were not being wasted — a responsibility that included the money spent on the cull.
“I’m all for civil disobedience, but I know it comes at a cost,” Ramlawi said. “You break the law, you break the law and you suffer the consequences of doing so.”