“I didn’t see when the deer first went down,” recalls Christine Stead. “It was dark in the morning. My husband and I could hear the noise–[coyotes] howl a lot when they’re in a pack and chasing something. But we couldn’t quite see.”
Then she saw. “There were a pack of coyotes eating a deer in our backyard.”
“It was crazy!” the school board member says of the scene at her home off N. Maple Rd. two years ago. “The Skyline practice fields and woods are right next to our house. We moved here three years ago, and we would see deer then. Now we see deer every day, twice a day. If we’re out there and talking, the deer stay away. If we’re not, they come up and eat the shrubs.”
Unless something eats them first. “There were five coyotes in the pack. They were there for another hour and a half eating the deer. More deer came through later in the morning. They came close to the [dead] deer, walked around it, and left.
“My kids did not see it,” Stead continues. “They were at school. The next night the coyotes took the rest of the carcass. I couldn’t find anything.”
The attack unnerved Stead. “I run in the early morning, and I didn’t go out running for about a week after that.” She’s back to running every day now, but the coyotes are still there–a member of her neighborhood watch group reported seeing one in May.
Despite the culling of sixty-three deer by hired sharpshooters last winter, fifty-four deer-vehicle crashes last year, and an unknown toll from coyotes,”there are still quite a few deer” in her neighborhood, Stead says. “But the last couple of years, some of them look unhealthy. You want them to be healthy and not spreading disease,” she says. “I’m supportive of the cull.”
First Ward councilmember Sabra Briere has been following the coyotes’ advance into the city for a decade.
“In 2009, I heard that coyotes were an issue in your neighborhood,” she wrote a constituent last spring. “That’s about 4 years after I heard they were sighted in mine (I live on Broadway).”
She also knew of the pack feeding in Stead’s backyard. “Coyotes attack deer,” Briere explains by phone. “It’s what they do. They also attack rabbits and ground- nesting birds. Coyotes are pack animals, and as a pack they’ll pick out the ill, the young, and the old.”
Briere thinks city policies contribute to a rising population of urban wildlife. “We’ve chosen to embrace our natural areas. We’ve chosen to use fewer pesticides and herbicides and focused on reintroducing native plants, and now we have a wonderful natural habitat.
“We also have predators,” she continues. “We have hawks. We have cranes. We have coyotes. We have snakes in the grass–literally snakes in the grass.”
Only the coyotes, though, hunt in packs. Are they any danger to humans?
“Coyotes, as with all wild animals, should be treated with respect,” emails DNR deer management specialist Chad Stewart. “Although attacks by coyotes on people are exceedingly rare, if coyotes become accustomed to people there could be the potential for negative interactions.”
“There’s a potential danger,” says Briere. “We have a predator in the community. But coyotes are not likely to attack a runner. They are much more likely to attack a small dog.
“Today I don’t think there’s a problem,” she says–but adds: “If we decrease the deer population, we’ll reduce the coyote population, because we’ll reduce the attraction of the habitat.”
Like every councilmember except mayor Christopher Taylor, Briere voted for last winter’s $87,000 deer cull. Though she still supports it, she wants changes made for any future culls.
“I’m firmly convinced we need to lay out for the public in advance the expectations of what we’re going to do. And I expect us not to close the parks at four o’clock” to conduct the cull this time around. “It’s when people are coming home from work and school. That’s when people exercise.
Briere also has thoughts on the report’s description of citizens’ responses. “A core group of people have deep moral objections to the use of firearms. Another core group of people objected to the closure of parks. Another group of people believe there isn’t a problem.
“Mixed in with all this is a bias that the city should not help people whose hostas are being eaten and a large group of people who didn’t oppose the deer cull. My perception is that Ann Arbor is split 45-55” with supporters in the (slight) majority.
The candidates running for council in this month’s Democratic primary are split about the cull.
First Ward incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy is for it. “I myself am an anti-gun, anti-NRA pacifist. Sometimes in politics you need to do certain hard choices. Most people who are for the deer cull are not happy, but it’s wrong not to do anything.”
“Deer culls can be done safely and humanely,” says Will Leaf, one of Kailasapathy’s challengers. “But the cull should be part of an intelligent plan, and I don’t think we have an intelligent plan yet. We need to determine what conditions justify culling deer, measure whether those conditions exist, and, if they do exist, cull in the most effective way possible.”
“We have a deer problem in a few neighborhoods,” says Jason Frenzel, Kailasapathy’s other challenger. “What we did was a blanket solution when we needed a more nuanced solution. I talked to people who were afraid to let their children into their backyards. They were afraid because they don’t understand. The onus of that is on the government.”
Fourth Ward incumbent Graydon Krapohl was for the deer cull but stresses that “I was also for continuing to explore the nonlethal means.”
“I’m against it because it’s the wrong solution,” says Diane Giannola, one of Krapohl’s challengers. “Our problem is that the deer are in the neighborhoods, and our solution is to shoot them in the parks. I don’t think that’s going to fix the problem.”
“There’s a problem, and we need to do something about it,” says Eric Lipson, Krapohl’s other challenger. “I would like to explore other ways of controlling the population outside of shooting. But I’m not necessarily opposed to it either.”
Fifth Ward challenger Kevin Leeser is against the cull. “It sounds spacey, but it’s a bad karma kind of thing.” He also finds it “frustrating that Chris [Taylor] didn’t use the veto power.” He understands that a veto would have been purely symbolic–supporters had the votes to override–but says, “If you believe in an issue, I think you should stand for it till the end, not roll over once your battle is lost. “
“There’s still justification for the cull,” says Fifth Ward incumbent Chuck Warpehoski. “As long as deer are breeding, the population is going to keep increasing beyond what is good for the ecosystem. There’s isn’t any evidence that we can use contraception to bring down the deer population to a sustainable level. Once we’ve gotten to a sustainable level I’m for using other methods to maintain a sustainable herd size.”
He doesn’t see predators as the answer: “Coyotes aren’t a management tool.”
The DNR’s Stewart agrees. “Though coyotes will obviously prey on deer, they tend to focus on young and weak deer,” he emails. “They generally do not have significant impacts on deer populations in urban settings.”