Local animal rights group launches online petition to end lethal deer cull program

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Sunday, November 5, 2017 - 5:50pm

A local animal rights group launched a change.org petition yesterday protesting the Ann Arbor City Council’s decision to continue Ann Arbor’s lethal deer management program. The petition reached 360 supporters as of Sunday evening.

The petition, which was started by the Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife and Nature, argues City Council mismanaged municipal funds to support a program that, in FAAWN’s perspective, was unnecessarily cruel and had limited success in controlling Ann Arbor’s deer population.

“Ann Arbor residents want to know that their tax dollars are being put towards programs that have their best interests at heart,” the petition reads. “For this reason, we are petitioning the City of Ann Arbor to stop the killing of 350 deer this Winter and look to non-lethal options to manage the deer population.”

Ann Arbor’s deer cull program has divided city residents from its inception three years ago. Supporters, including University of Michigan biologists, assert it is the most effective way in dealing with vehicle collisions, risk of Lyme and chronic wasting diseases, and ecological damage stemming from deer overpopulation. Opponents criticize the program as violent and accuse City Council of not being transparent in its public dealings.

According to a 2016 survey, 54 percent of residents approved of using lethal methods. Every City Council member shares this view, each of whom voted against a budget amendment that would have defunded the deer management program earlier this year. Forty-five percent of residents were opposed. In addition, according to the same survey, 61 percent of residents supported nonlethal methods such as contraception, trapping and sterilization, regardless of their views on employing lethal methods.

Last year, the city expanded nonlethal methods to accommodate residents who were opposed to the cull. The city also commissioned the Michigan State University Office for Survey Research to conduct a new survey this year and aims to reach a 75 percent satisfaction rate from residents.

However, the city not only increased the projected number of deer it will cull this year, but also decreased funding for nonlethal operations. Moreover, City Council eliminated a rule in which sharpshooters cannot shoot within 450 feet of an occupied building or residence without the owner’s permission, heightening fears that bystanders may be injured or killed.

City councilmember Jason Frenzel, D-Ward 1, explained Council did away with the rule, mandated by the state of Michigan, because only “hunters” fall under its purview, not “sharpshooters.” He said however strict safety rules must be put in place before any shooting starts.

“We must put into effect safety protocols that make sure that we’re not shooting towards people,” Frenzel said. “In my mind, any specific distance is in some ways arbitrary. Therefore the decision on what that distance is is more about the other precautions that take effect.”

Frenzel also said funding for the lethal program increased comparatively because Council pulled money from future operational funds to reduce the net amount spent on the multi-year cull and said the body has not given up on exploring non-lethal alternatives.

“Evidence shows that moving the reproduction base to a lower amount as soon as possible will also reduce our funding obligations into the future,” Frenzel said.

Ann Arbor resident Valerie Carey wrote in the comment section of the petition page she felt uncomfortable with sharpshooters walking around in her neighborhood.

“I was walking my dog last winter in a park & got disoriented on a trail toward late afternoon and ended up being in the park’s wooded area later than intended coming perilously close to the time when the shooting was to begin in that park,” Carey wrote. “It was not my intention to be there that late, but it happened and I was very worried for the safety of myself & my (leashed) dog.”

However, White Buffalo Inc., the contractor the city hired for culling operations, maintains the nonprofit’s sharpshooters have operated in other areas without the 450-foot rule without incident over the past two decades.

LSA senior Aaron Brodkey, co-president of the Michigan Animal Respect Society, shared the petition on multiple social media pages, including pages for the class of 2018, ‘19 and ‘20. He said he has worked with FAAWN since a member of the organization contacted him after a protest in January to bring awareness to the issue.

Brodkey said the issue directly affects students because of the location where some of these culling operations are happening.

“The University of Michigan owns a lot of the city’s parks, for instance the Arb and North Campus and these are places that a lot of students go and so they should know that (there are) most likely (to) be sharpshooters on these parts of campus killing deer,” Brodkey said. “It’s important for public safety reasons that students are aware of this.”

“If (students are) not okay with having hired sharpshooters on these premises, they should sign the petition and tell the City that they would much rather value the City looking towards non-lethal options,” he added.

However, Jim Kosteva, community relations director for the University, told The Daily in a previous article involving a separate anti-cull petition that University property has suffered environmentally and financially unsustainable damage through deer grazing.

“The Nichols Arboretum, which is expected to be a showcase and living laboratory of diverse species, has been unable to establish many seedlings due to the overgrazing of the deer herd,” Kosteva wrote. “The University has also incurred a significant loss of landscape materials, particularly on North Campus, that have been consumed or damaged by deer. Replacing that material has required a costly diversion of funds that otherwise could support more mission centered activities.”