Deer Cull 2.0
This year's cull will be shorter, but sterilization will add to the cost.
From the January, 2017 issue
In November, city council approved a second winter deer cull by a vote of 9-2. As it did last year, the city will hire sharpshooters to kill up to 100 deer in closed city parks. But instead of two months, city CFO Tom Crawford says this year's cull will be just "two weeks for lethal [and] one week for nonlethal, three weeks in total. They might overlap, and they might not."
The nonlethal component will be surgical sterilization of forty to sixty does. Working on private property by permission, contractors will "get close, dart them, and remove the deer," says Crawford, who's running this year's cull. "They then take it to a place to sterilize it, [inject it with] long-lasting antibiotics, and then put it back near to where it was picked up."
Adding sterilizations grew out of talks with opponents of last year's plan. "We met with Bob McGee [founder of Ann Arbor Residents for Nonlethal Deer Management] and other citizen groups, FAAWN and Ann Arbor Citizens for Public Safety," Crawford says. "They all expressed [a desire] to explore nonlethal, and they helped us come up with a vendor that proposed a combination [of] nonlethal along with the lethal plan this year."
"Ann Arbor residents report too many deer in the city," says mayor Christopher Taylor. "[There are] more deer than there used to be, and that has an impact on people's residential experience and natural area experience."
Yet as he did last year, Taylor voted against the cull. "The shooting of deer, the use of guns in Ann Arbor parks and natural areas, is inconsistent with the broad community ethos," he explains. "It shakes a substantial proportion of residents and makes them feel different about their home and their sense of community in a way that is very meaningful to them."
Tanya Hilgendorf, the head of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, also remains resolutely opposed. "We don't have an overpopulation problem," she says. "We have a 'people
who are frustrated with landscaping concerns' problem. Urban deer are here to stay. You can't kill them all, and you can't keep them out. You cannot shoot your way back to 1952!" (Actually 1982 would be more like it-that's when deer first appeared in Barton Hills on a migration that soon reached the city.)
Support for the cull is strongest where deer are most numerous, in Ward Two north of the river. Asked if the cull is needed, Ward Two rep Kirk Westphal is emphatic: "Based on the increases in car crashes and private property damage and even a preliminary reading of damage to natural areas, the answer is a resounding 'yes!'"
The sterilizations will raise the cost of this year's cull to $250,000, up from $160,000 last year. "It's really expensive," Westphal concedes, "but I'm convinced it's necessary this year until we get a reading on where the herds are. I hear the objection to using guns. But since the predators are gone, it comes down to what species do you prefer to safeguard? Deer without predators eliminate other species."
"A lot of people in both camps aren't happy with the hybrid approach," acknowledges Ward Five rep Chuck Warpehoski. "There are some people who are not happy there are any deer in the city, and some people who will never accept lethal methods" of managing the herd.
Hilgendorf hopes Ann Arbor residents will mobilize politically to stop future culls. So does Eileen Liska- Stronczer, a Pittsfield Township resident who's spoken at council meetings. "It is absolutely up to the people who live in Ann Arbor and who oppose inhumane methods of deer control to do more than complain, and to step up and become politically active," she emails.
"Cull opponents have run three people [for council], and they didn't win," says Warpehoski, who faced two of them, "and there's still the same nine-two split on council. Most of the people I talk to understand the reason [for the cull]. They're concerned about firearms and closing parks, but they get it."
The shorter cull will give the city more time to warn the public this year. "We'll do signage in three languages, English, Spanish, and Mandarin," Crawford says, "postcards to residents who live around parks and anybody [whose property] backs onto a park, multiple media releases, resident newsletters, email notifications, and social media, our website and our television station, and direct mail to registered neighborhood associations, to the public schools, and to the U-M. And we'll work with stakeholder groups both for and against the cull to further get the word out."
This year's program will also add an educational component: "Materials on how to live with deer more effectively and what kind of planting and sprays to use, and about fencing and signage for deer crossings to help reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions."
Even with these changes, Crawford says the plan is likely to change again next year. "It's going to take multiple years to find a plan that we settle on. We're still collecting data. The third and the fourth year plans may be quite different."
[Originally published in January, 2017.]
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