State Approves City's 2017 Deer Management Plan

Monday, January 9, 2017 - 5:32pm

Protesters hold signs against a deer cull in Ann Arbor parks at an Ann Arbor City Council meeting on January 4, 2016.

Protesters hold signs against a deer cull in Ann Arbor parks at an Ann Arbor City Council meeting on January 4, 2016. Buy this photo
Amanda Allen/ Daily

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved Ann Arbor’s 2017 deer cull plan Friday, which aims to eliminate 100 deer over the course of two weeks from Jan. 30 to Feb. 13.

This year’s deer management program will introduce deer sterilization for the first time. According to the city, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 a.m. from Jan. 22 to 29, professionals from White Buffalo Inc. will dart doe with tranquilizers to conduct ovariectomies — surgical procedures that remove ovaries — on them at a temporary surgical site.

Every sterilized deer will have a numbered ear tag attached to it, and one doe from each group will be fitted with a radio collar to track migration patterns and analyze survival rates. The program aims to sterilize at least 50 deer by the end of the week. 

City Councilmember Jason Frenzel (D–Ward 1) said the sterilization aspect was added in response to anti-cull groups, which have been demanding the city explore alternative and experimental methods of solution.

“One of the concerns that was brought up by a number of different individuals and groups was the city’s lack of implementing any non-lethal methods,” Frenzel said. “There were some groups in town that were interesting in pursuing that option and this is an attempt to go down that road to see if it is a workable situation here.”

The cull was highly unpopular among many citizens and some members of City Council when it was first introduced in the Fall of 2015. Many Ann Arbor citizens expressed concern over residents' safety and the moral considerations of implementing a cull in the city. However, the cull was approved 8-1 by the City Council, and a majority of residents surveyed were in favor of it.

The culling phase also received an update, taking last year’s data on neighborhood safety and deer presence into consideration.

Frenzel said updates include the shortening of the culling period, which was reduced from roughly two months to two weeks from January 30 to February 13 from 3 p.m. to midnight. The number of parks where lethal shooting will take place is also reduced because of the non-lethal initiative.

“There’s a little bit of shifting around of parks,” Frenzel said. “(Last year) some of the parks were simply too small, some of the parks contiguous with other parks so it was confusing … and there were a couple of locations that were used heavily for children’s routes to school and those were removed.”

There are 10 areas throughout the city that will be closed during the cull program. Three University of Michigan property areas will also be closed from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 from 3 p.m. to midnight, including the Nichols Arboretum.

Tanya Hilgendorf, CEO of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, who is opposed to the deer management program, expressed her displeasure at this dual sterilization-culling approach. She argued that the city’s claim of deer overpopulation is not scientifically valid and is instead motivated by residents wanting to protect the pristine condition of their backyards.

“(We) do not think a mixed approach of killing and sterilizing makes sense philosophically or scientifically,” Hilgendorf wrote in an email interview with the Daily. “If we don’t think it is okay to use gun violence to try to solve problems between people then we shouldn’t use gun violence against wildlife in our community parks.”

Hilgendorf criticized the University for opening its land up to sharpshooters, arguing that it is selfish for the University to create a haven for deer and then remove them when they become a nuisance.

“The UM called the Arb a ‘living laboratory’ – shouldn’t a living laboratory embrace life?” Hilgendorf wrote. “We planted the tasty plants that deer love to eat. We essentially invited them to dinner and then became outraged when they took up our offer. Now they are being shot and going through surgery just to appease those looking for easy answers.”

One of the concerns detailed in last year’s deer management report was the need for better enforcing park closing during culling hours and a small number of anti-cull activists who spread misinformation to create “alarm” among residents.

Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) said he does not believe a misinformation campaign is going on, but rather that residents are interpreting information in a different way.

“Whatever happened last year, I have no reason to believe that there’ll be people spreading misinformation this year,” Taylor said. “People get their information from a variety of ways. I have no reason to think that it’s an intentional campaign.”