Michigan State University is conducting a survey study on Ann Arbor residents’ attitudes surrounding the city’s deer management program. The survey was commissioned by City Council to guide their efforts going forward, hoping to achieve their goal of 75 percent satisfaction with the program across the city.

The program itself consists of culling deer on city property, according to the city website. Recent culling activities have been carried out by White Buffalo — a nonprofit that aims to conserve ecosystems. 

Dr. Daniel Thaler, the MSU researcher in charge of the study, said in an email interview the results of the study were to be explicitly for city use.

“For our part, we (the Michigan State University Office for Survey Research) are conducting the survey to help the City of Ann Arbor evaluate the success of its Deer Management Program and inform their policymaking going forward,” he wrote. “Our office will not be using the results for any purpose other than analyzing and reporting the results to the city government, to be used as they see fit.”

This is not the first time the council has tried to gauge attitudes toward the program. City Council conducted an online survey in 2016 on residents’ attitudes and experiences with deer. The results showed that 54 percent of respondents supported continuing lethal methods to reduce the deer population, and 61 percent supported nonlethal methods such as trapping and contraception.

However, many residents feel as though City Council has flouted their concerns with the cull. In an email interview with the Daily last year, Tanya Hilgendorf, director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley — one of the most prominent groups opposing the cull — wrote the council started seeking input from residents only after it had commenced the cull.

“So many people knew nothing about the issue until after (City Council) voted to cull,” Hilgendorf wrote. “…I wouldn’t say people were shut out of the official public input process. I would say they were shut out of the backroom conversations that led to a decision to cull — largely before the public engagement process even began.” 

Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2) said the MSU study would be an improvement over previous assessments, providing more specific data by region. The cull occurs primarily in Wards 1 and 2.

“I think what the survey will tell us, in a very localized manner, by neighborhood or ward, is people’s level of concern about deer, and also how the city is handling it,” he said. “Until now we’ve been mostly relying on anecdotal feedback from residents and statistics such as preliminary findings of deer browse damage in parks, and deer vehicle collisions. I think it will be really helpful to have this more scientifically valid attitudinal survey that we can track over time.”

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