Above: deer along the Northern Tier Trail in East Lansing in May 2016
Beginning early next Monday morning (November 7, 2016) and continuing through the following Saturday, students from the MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Club will survey deer populations in City parks. Over the past year and a half, East Lansing residents have debated what should be done about the growing deer population, with the main issue being whether the City should authorize a planned “cull” to lower the population.
Proponents of a cull point to the property destruction caused by deer eating garden plants and the possibility of the animals being a vector for diseases, including Chronic Wasting Disease. Opponents of an official deer hunt say that deer are a part of the natural urban ecology and the complaints are out of proportion with the reality of the situation.
This year’s population survey, an update to a similar study done last year, will answer the question: Just how many deer are living in East Lansing’s parks?
Student volunteers will survey locations in eight City parks at dawn and dusk to get some indication of the density of the deer population. The locations are:
- Abbot Road Park, to be surveyed Monday and Tuesday morning and Thursday and Friday evening;
- Henry Fine Park, to be surveyed Tuesday morning and Friday evening;
- Harrison Meadows Park, to be surveyed Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon;
- Burcham Park, to be surveyed Tuesday morning and Friday evening;
- Patriarche Park, to be surveyed Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon;
- the area near East Lansing High School, to be surveyed Friday evening and Saturday morning;
- Emerson Park, which was just added to the plans.
The part of the study done at ELHS will focus on the strip of wooded property behind the school and adjacent to the East Lansing Public Library, which is owned by the District. The City received permission from the school district to conduct the survey there and have scheduled volunteers for Friday evening and Saturday morning so as not to disturb, or be disturbed, by school hours.
The City’s Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo says that the City has not seen an increased number of citizen contacts regarding deer activity, but the City’s data set on the deer population is one that is updated regularly. Last year, the City surveyed five locations - Burcham, White, Harrison Meadows, Henry Fine, and Abbot Road Parks; and found groups of 5-10 deer in Burcham, White, and Harrison Meadows Parks, a smaller group of up to 5 deer in Henry Fine, and 10-15 deer in Abbot Road Park. These counts are likely to be underestimates because “in collecting a baseline estimate…we prefer to be conservative,” the 2015 survey notes.
“Understanding the deer population and tracking changes in that population” through surveys such as the one beginning next week is one of the “many factors…to be considered when implementing deer management measures, whether those methods are lethal or non-lethal,” DeShambo told ELi in an interview yesterday.
However, an increase in the deer population wouldn’t necessarily prompt a planned cull. “There is no magic number that triggers a particular response but a substantial increase in any particular data set, whether it be population, deer vehicle collisions, incidence of browse damage, incidence of disease in deer or humans would warrant further investigation and discussion,” DeShambo said when asked about the impact of the study on sanctioned hunts and other deer management practices.
Politically speaking, the previous East Lansing City Council was more enthusiastic than the current one appears to be about a hunt carried out by USDA Wildlife Services sharpshooters within City limits. The current Council has delayed action on the deer for several months, waiting for more information of the sort that will be obtained by this population study as well as the establishment of a “metric of success” - a specific goal - that being repeatedly named by Councilmember Erik Altmann as a necessary part of any planned intervention.
As ELi has previously reported, Meridian Township culled 800 deer last year but this did not reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by collisions with deer. This raises questions about whether the number of deer removed from a herd is a good measure of success in terms of reducing damage to vehicles, people, and property.
Car accidents caused by deer happen in East Lansing too, especially in the Red Cedar neighborhood, where overlapping ownership between East Lansing, Lansing, MSU, and private individuals makes it difficult to implement management policies, DeShambo reported at a City Council meeting on February 23, 2016. Emerson Park, the most recently added survey site, is directly to the west of Red Cedar Elementary, so data gathered there will help illuminate the scale of the deer problem in that area.
You may also be interested in:
- Reports of destructive deer in the Lantern Hill area
- Deer Cull Talks Continue
- Legal Stage Set for Possible Deer Cull
- Deer Encroachment and Damage in East Lansing Neighborhoods
- With Deer Come Tick-Borne Diseases