City Council voted 8-3 Monday night against an amendment to the Ann Arbor’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year that would have defunded the city’s controversial deer management program in order to fund climate and pedestrian safety initiatives.
The program, initiated in 2015, aimed to reduce the deer population in Ann Arbor using lethal means, such as sharpshooting, as well as non-lethal means, such as female sterilization. Its intent is to prevent overbrowsing of local vegetation and reduce deer-vehicle collisions.
The cull has been the point of contentious debate between city government and residents. Some have criticized the cull for its violent and accused the council of being less than transparent in their public dealings regarding it. Although the city recently commissioned a study from Michigan State University on local attitudes regarding the cull, with the eventual goal of achieving 75 percent satisfaction across the city, the city also conducted a survey in 2016 in which 54 percent of the more than 2,000 respondents indicated they approved of lethal methods of population management and 61 percent approved of non-lethal methods.
Mayor Christopher Taylor, a sponsor of the amendment, offered little criticism of the cull, but said the resources that went toward it would be better spent elsewhere.
“I think that we have come forward with a deer management program that, if we’re gonna have one, in its entirety, is good,” he said. “I think what we’re doing is professional and is thoughtful. For my part, I just don’t think we should be doing it, I think we have better things to do with that money.”
Councilmembers Jason Frenzel (D–Ward 1) and Chip Smith (D–Ward 5), sponsors of the amendment and the other two yes votes on the amendment, said they thought it was the best option for a budget cut in order to fund climate action programs.
However, Ann Arbor resident David Silkworth, who is currently contesting Smith’s Ward 5 seat, spoke out against the amendment during the public comment portion of the meeting, accusing its sponsors of using the amendment to gain goodwill rather than truly supporting it.
“I’m a longtime opponent of using lethal deer management methods within our city, and I’m a strong supporter of pedestrian safety infrastructure improvements,” Silkworth said. “So you’re probably wondering why I currently oppose Amendment 5. I oppose it because I see it as nothing more than a disingenuous and irresponsible political maneuver intended to endear its sponsors to both anti-cull activists, ardent cyclists, and anyone concerned about pedestrian safety issues.”
Councilmember Julie Grand (D–Ward 3), who voted against the amendment, said if it passed, the past two years of funding the cull would have been a waste, and with continued investment the program would eventually require less and less funding.
“I feel that it’s just fiscally irresponsible to throw the funding that we put in the last two years toward deer management –– it would just be throwing it away,” she said. “I want us to get to the point where we’re not spending a quarter of a million dollars every year, and the way that we do that is to just deal with the fact that we need to spend this money now, and invest it, and hopefully go forward to the point where we can sustain management practices for a lot less money.”
Citing the ecological damage deer do to the city’s wildlife via overbrowsing, Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) said she agreed that climate action was a worthy goal, but by voting against the amendment she felt she was voting in favor of the environment.