Those of you opposing effective deer management are doing a major disservice to our city. Here’s some background: No hunting. In Michigan 370,000 deer are harvested and consumed each year by hunters. That keeps the deer population stable at about 1.75 million-2 million deer. The problem in cities down here in southern Michigan is that hunting is illegal and predators have been eliminated, hence the need for culls when deer become overabundant. Deer biology. Without hunters or predators (no cougars any more, no wolves) University of Michigan research shows that deer populations double in two years. If we had 400 deer in the City in November we will have more than 560 by summer. There were an estimated 300 deer in Wards 1 and 2 before this month’s culls. That estimate is based on the helicopter counts and deer reproduction rates. Some history. Deer had almost been wiped out, like the American bison, by commercial exploitation. Sport hunting provided a way to control the deer population in a way that it could grow, which it has from a very small base. Deer like suburban “edge habitat” with open land bordering woods and thrive here better than in the deep woods. Edge habitat plus no hunting is deer paradise. Deer were not seen in Ann Arbor 50 years ago. They began to be very visible in certain areas of Ann Arbor’s First and Second wards in the early 2000’s, including in the University’s Arb and North Campus. Deer are killing Ann Arbor’s woodlands The City of Ann Arbor has documented this in the studies of Jacqueline Courteau which measure deer browse pressure on the forest understory in Ann Arbor’s parks. If tree seedlings mostly get eaten by deer eventually there will be no trees; the forest can’t regenerate. Forest understory also provides a rich eco-system for many species, including pollinators, and it is being damaged by the deer. In many North American woodlands improperly managed deer have turned the understory into undesirable forest floors of invasive species such as Japanese barberry or stiltgrass. We need to avoid that in Ann Arbor, where residents value our parks very highly and where much public and volunteer effort has been expended in removing invasive plant species. There’s no doubt that culls can reduce a deer population and that reducing the deer population can help damaged ecosystems recover. Ongoing deer culls in Huron Metroparks have reduced the deer population to a level where desired vegetation is reappearing, so you don’t have to go far to see this. Car crashes. Ann Arbor had a high of 90 deer-vehicle crashes in the year before the culls began to control the population and still has 56 in the last reported year, 2017. Attempts to reduce an intolerable level of deer-vehicle accidents through public education and better signage have failed in Rochester Hills, which consistently has the highest number of deer-vehicle collisions in Michigan due to its “no cull” policy. Lyme disease Lyme is now as of very recently confirmed by the Washtenaw County Health Department to be transmitted by ticks in Washtenaw County. Deer are an essential part of the life cycle of the deer tick (black-legged tick) which transmits Lyme to humans, typically in the tick’s nymph phase. The adult female ticks need blood from a deer to lay eggs and make more ticks. Keeping the deer population at a low density is our best shot at preventing Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses from becoming endemic in Ann Arbor. Failure to control deer brings Lyme disease. A dramatic example is Staten Island, in New York City. There were 24 deer there 10 years ago. Now there are 2000 and several million dollars spent on buck vasectomies have not adequately reduced the deer population and have not prevented Lyme disease from becoming endemic there since the deer arrived and a real health threat to children playing outside and adults enjoying the out of doors. Landscaping and gardens. Ann Arbor home owners value our landscaping, our trees and shrubs, evergreen and deciduous, and our flowering plants, perennials and annuals. Selecting only deer resistant species would greatly degrade the diversity of our plantings and substitute non-native and invasive plants for desirable native ones. Property owners are highly constrained by City ordinances on how we can protect our plantings since we cannot hunt or hire private nuisance animal control. Fences are also severely restricted and fences conforming to the local ordinance are not always high enough to be effective deer deterrents. Deer repellents are only somewhat effective and expensive and labor-intensive. Deterring deer from eating one property owner’s plants also just sends the hungry deer into a neighbor’s yard. Deer management is the best solution for a city to pursue. Lethal and Nonlethal. Ann Arbor uses the recommended method of deer herd control for public parks, golf courses, arboretums etc. which is a rifle cull over bait by sharpshooters, typically shooting downward in planned shooting lanes that prevent the rounds from traveling beyond the target and using safety ammunition that prevents ricocheting. The venison is distributed, as is legally required, to food banks. Parks and private parcels where culls occur are selected because they are deer population hotspots and are locations where culls can safely be conducted. Bow hunting was considered but discouraged by the Department of Natural Resources. Transportation of deer to another area is illegal. The City also considered and rejected the use of volunteer sport hunters for the cull, desiring professional sharpshooters under an experienced contractor’s supervision. Ann Arbor is also doing a pilot study in surgical sterilization in two neighborhoods in Ward 2 where does are captured by darting and then their ovaries are removed. The rationale for the nonlethal method is in part that lethal culls would not be permitted or accepted in some neighborhood locations. Any fertility control method acts too slowly and costs too much to be preferred for widespread use in deer herd reduction. Ovary removal is really the only feasible fertility control method at this time, despite decades of development and testing of non-hormonal deer contraceptives. Michigan does not permit the use of deer contraceptives and last month the Michigan Legislature and outgoing Gov. Snyder stopped until 2022 any additional surgical sterilization.
Documentation for my facts can be found on the Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance site www.wc4eb.org and at on Ann Arbor’s deer management pages at https://www.a2gov.org/departments/community-services/Pages/Deer-Management-Project-.aspx