City ends 4th annual deer cull early, parks reopen

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 - 8:25pm

Ann Arbor’s fourth annual deer cull ended a week ahead of schedule, the city announced Monday.

Ann Arbor’s fourth annual deer cull ended a week ahead of schedule, the city announced Monday. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Ann Arbor’s fourth annual deer cull ended a week ahead of schedule, the city announced Monday, resulting in the reopening of a dozen parks and nature areas. From Jan. 2 to Jan. 20, sharpshooters removed 112 deer, failing to meet the city’s goal of bagging up to 150.  

In a statement, Lisa Wondrash, communications director of Ann Arbor, said White Buffalo, the contractor hired to carry out the effort, decided to finish the cull early.

“The earlier than anticipated completion date is a result of optimal weather conditions since Jan. 2 that enabled White Buffalo to operate on consecutive days without significant breaks in between and within budget,” Wondrash said. “Per the contract, White Buffalo is paid for time and materials, not per deer.”

Ann Arbor City Council approved the deer management program — which takes both lethal and nonlethal approaches to reducing the size of the local herd — four years ago in response to complaints from residents about damage to landscaping and deer-vehicle collisions. Ecologists have also pointed out the problems an overabundance of the animals causes to the environment, especially to tree saplings.

A total of 386 deer have been killed and 78 surgically sterilized as a result of the program, which has been the subject of long-running debate in the community and cost the city upwards of half a million dollars.

Bernie Banet, member of Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, said if the city was able to reduce the deer population to a sustainable level, then only smaller culls would be necessary in the future to maintain a healthy herd size.

“If we have, indeed, reached a level where the population is acceptable according to those measures, then, by virtue of deer biology, further culling will still be needed, probably each year, to keep the population stable,” Banet said. “These maintenance culls will be smaller than the more aggressive culls that have been needed to actually reduce a population.”

A 2016 report from the city found 54 percent of residents supported the cull while 45 percent were against it.

Banet said residents have generally become more accepting of the deer cull now that it has been around for a while but noted that “passionate opposition from some groups has not gone away.” One of those organizations is Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife in Nature, which has called the program unethical and ineffective. Since this year’s cull started, protestors have demonstrated near the sharpshooters’ perches around the city, including some on University property.

Disruptions from anti-cull protestors were blamed in part when White Buffalo failed to meet the city’s goal in 2018, killing less than half of the 250 deer quota. Earlier this month, City Council voted down a resolution to take legal action against the demonstrators who interfered with White Buffalo’s sharpshooters. The measure, introduced by Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, was based on a state statute that makes it illegal for people to interfere with the “lawful taking of animals” such as Ann Arbor’s deer cull.

On Jan. 9, an officer from the Division of Public Safety and Security warned protestors on Hubbard Road about the consequence of disrupting the work of a sharpshooter stationed on University property, a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of 93 days in jail and a fine of up to $1000.

Melissa Overton, deputy chief of police at University of Michigan, said the officer did not issue a citation — just a verbal warning. She said a DPSS officer was placed at each of the locations throughout the University where the cull was conducted.

“We have officers assigned to those areas during the deer cull for safety reasons and the specific complaint that we got came from the cull operator,” Overton said. “That was the first time that we had received that complaint that they were actually interfering with that, so that’s when we took action.”

Overton said the warning does not mean anti-cull protestors can no longer demonstrate and that they continued to do so on University property.

“They can, and they have,” Overton said. “One night there were six of them in the Arb, and they did not interfere, so they weren’t screaming into the woods, they weren’t obstructing or interfering in the actual cull. They were standing there, they were chanting, they were all in one area. We had no problem.”

In an email, FAAWN co-founder Lisa Abram said DPSS “threatened to arrest peaceful protestors.”

“The fact that U-M Police threatened peaceful protestors with imprisonment is alarming and a wake up call for everyone who believes in free speech and the right to use our voices for peaceful protests,” Abrams said.

Abrams said FAAWN had reached out to local attorneys in regard to the constitutionality of the law.

“The American Civil Liberties Union and Gayle Rosen, a staff Attorney with U-M Student Legal Services, are looking into our civil rights issues, and whether the Michigan hunter harassment law is a violation of our First Amendment rights to free speech and to peacefully protest,” Abrams said.

In an email to The Daily, Rosen, the co-chair of the Washtenaw County Lawyers Committee of the ACLU, did not confirm or deny that she was working with FAAWN.

“The Lawyers Committee receives many requests for assistance throughout the year,” Rosen said. “It is our practice not to comment on a particular case, or the identity of a person or a group seeking assistance from our committee unless and until we make a decision to take action in the matter.”

This was the final year of the city’s deer management program. In accordance with a research permit from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ann Arbor has recorded data on the impact and further research will be conducted in coming months, including an assessment of this year’s program from White Buffalo as well as a survey of residents’ opinions conducted by Michigan State University. The city will then compile a final deer management summary report by July.