Despite controversy, Ann Arbor deer cull supported by majority of residents

Monday, June 6, 2016 - 11:31pm

Despite vocal opposition the local lethal deer management program has received, a recent city report found the majority of Ann Arbor residents remain in support of it. The report also noted that some anti-cull residents obstructed the progress of the cull and  contained a list of recommendations for deer management for subsequent years.

Ann Arbor has seen a rapid increase in its deer population over the past decade. Rising concerns over vehicle-deer collisions, the spread of Lyme disease and damage to private property prompted City Council members to approve a lethal deer management program for the next four years. The cull drew fierce protests and legal action from animal rights activists.

According to the report, sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture removed a total of 63 deer in Wards 1 and 2 between Jan. 2 and March 1. The report also noted that a February aerial survey counted 202 deer, an increase from 168 in a comparable survey carried out in March 2015.

The report additionally surveyed city residents on their opinions of the cull and their interactions with deer. The study — which was reviewed by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center to minimize bias and improve question clarity — collected 2,226 complete surveys. Two hundred and seventy-two of the respondents lived outside Ann Arbor city boundaries.

The survey found that, despite vocal opposition from some residents to the cull, a majority of the city population continues to be in favor of lethal deer management.

Of the respondents, 54 percent supported continuing lethal measures to reduce the deer population, while 45 percent of respondents opposed continuing lethal measures. In a similar 2015 survey, 57 percent of respondents supported a cull and 43 percent were opposed, implying a small erosion of support.

The survey also seemed to validate some of the main concerns over the local deer population, especially in vehicle-deer collision and private property damage.

Some 34 percent of respondents reported someone in their household was involved in a near-miss collision with a deer in the last three years, while 7 percent were involved in such a crash themselves.

Forty-one percent of respondents reported their landscapes had been damaged by deer in the last three years, while 52 percent reported no damage.

In addition to the survey, the report also identified some challenges that hampered the city’s goal of culling 100 deer. These included bureaucratic problems, such as the reduction of culling-approved parks by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the retirement of several city staff members involved with the program, which sacrificed continuity.

There were also on-the-ground challenges posed by the trespassers in parks during culling hours, as well as instances of some anti-culling activists spreading misinformation — such as rumors of poor safety practices by the U.S.D.A. sharpshooters — that caused alarm among residents.

However, the report also noted successes, including zero reported injuries related to cull activities, 1,514 meals worth of venison donated to a local food bank and the completion of one aerial deer count.

The report deemed the cull program an overall success, praising the removal of 63 deer while no humans or pets were harmed. The success was attributed to how the sharpshooters were paid in lump sum rather than by the number of deer they killed, which mitigated risky behavior as shooters had no motivation to remove more deer.  

The report concluded with a number of recommendations for next year, including recommendations for a search for ways to increase the number of deer cull locations, the stricter enforcement of park closings and the continued exploration of nonlethal methods as prescribed by a previous City Council resolution.