What happens when cities refuse to manage their deer herds effectively?

Case 2. Rochester Hills, Michigan

Rochester Hills was presented numerous times at Ann Arbor’s deer forums five years ago as the poster child for effective non-lethal deer management. Rochester Hills had had a significant deer-vehicle collision problem, and residents had been complaining about deer damage to plants. Lethal deer management was defeated by an angry group of animal defenders who maintained that educating residents about avoiding deer accidents, adding (movable) deer crossing signage, advising home owners to use deer repellents and “deer resistant” plants would take care of the apparent deer overabundance problems somehow, ignoring the basic fact of deer biology that in the absence of hunters or predators – or disease – a deer population doubles about every two years..

When the Rochester Hills deer population plunged temporarily due to EHD, a deer disease, traffic accidents dipped and the anti-cull advocates loudly proclaimed their non-lethal program a huge success at reducing deer crashes. Fast forward to 2018 and we find that as a collision-prevention program the education and signage measures seem to have been singularly ineffective. Rochester Hills, as it often has been, is at the top of the Michigan list for deer-vehicle collisions, the number one municipality in the state.

Furthermore, according to Rochester Hills naturalist Lance DeVoe in his talk in Ann Arbor during one of the deer forums, their woodland understory

in their public lands is now mostly invasive Japanese barberry, which will prevent the trees and the whole forest ecology from regenerating. The invasive barberry is “deer resistant,” and therefore survives where everything else dies, but by replacing native species it is hostile to many plant and animal species, including pollinators, that would be sheltered in the woods.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview with Rochester Hills naturalist Lance DeVoe, a Rochester Hills city employee:
By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published December 5, 2018
“Deer, by far, have become the most difficult wildlife problem in our city,” DeVoe said during the presentation. “I keep thinking that there has to be a correction at some point, because our city is not what I would call an ideal white-tailed deer habitat, and it shouldn’t be able to keep as many deer as we have here healthy, but unfortunately, that correction hasn’t happened yet.”

Anytime there’s an overabundance of deer in a suburban area, the risk for deer-related car crashes increases. Although Rochester Hills saw a slight dip in deer-related car crashes last year, dropping from 176 in 2016 to 161 in 2017, DeVoe said the city still leads the state in deer-related car accidents.

“There’s car-deer accidents everywhere in the city. It’s all over,” he said. “And we know that there’s a significant number of car-deer accidents that don’t get reported.”

Tienken Road has historically led the city’s roads as far as the number of deer-related car accidents, followed by Avon and Adams roads, and Walton Boulevard. If a deer dies on a road governed by the Road Commission for Oakland County, DeVoe said, the animal is picked up by the county; if it dies on a city road, it’s picked up by the city’s Department of Public Services; if it dies on public property, it’s picked up by the city’s Natural Resources Department to be delivered to the DPS.

“There are deer being dropped off at our Department of Public Services virtually every day,” DeVoe explained.

An overabundance of deer can also wreak havoc in parks and neighborhoods by reducing vegetation, particularly native plants, thus reducing food and shelter for other animals and also damaging landscaping.

Repellents — such as Liquid Fence, Deer Away — can help discourage deer from entering property, according to DeVoe.

“Some of them do work if you’re persistent and diligent enough with applying them after it rains and after a heavy dew,” he said. “You can deter (deer) to some extent. It just takes a lot of effort.”

DeVoe also suggests that people scare deer away when they come to their yard and removing the vegetation they like to eat from the landscaping. He said a list of plants that deer seldom eat is available on the city’s website.

“We’re not trying to encourage more deer, and feeding them helps to keep that population abnormally high,” he said.

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