Deer Cull Talks Continue

Tuesday, February 23, 2016, 1:10 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Photo credit: Greg Thompson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons

East Lansing’s City Council is set tonight to continue discussion of a possible deer cull in two City parks. In response to questions from Council members, City staff has prepared answers to questions about deer sterilization, whether organized kills will really reduce local populations, and whether it is possible to put reflectors on deer to reduce deer-car accidents. Tonight’s meeting could see a vote on an ordinance that would allow the culls to occur.

Concern about chronic wasting disease (CWD) in local deer remains high among state and national wildlife managers. According to a new memo from East Lansing Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo, so far in the state, out of 4,550 deer tested for CWD, five have come up positive, including three in Meridian Township (just west of East Lansing), one in Dewitt Township (just north of East Lansing), and one in Watertown Charter Township (northwest of Lansing).

CWD has been named as the chief reason the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and USDA Wildlife Services were called in to plan culls (deer kills) by hired professional hunters in East Lansing’s Harrison Meadows Park and White Park.

The main concern expressed among East Lansing residents weighing in, however, seems to be about destruction of landscaping at parks and residences. The targeting of these two particular East Lansing parks appears to be based less on vicinity to where deer with CWD have been found than with where complaints about extensive deer-caused landscaping damage are arising in East Lansing.

As ELi has reported, some residents object to the cull plan, saying they think complaints about deer are out of proportion to the damage. Detractors to the cull plan also say that living with deer is part of living in a complex urban ecology, with some saying they enjoy having deer in their yards.

A chart provided by City staff shows that “deer-vehicle collisions” have been steadily increasing in East Lansing since 2011, when there were 14 such accidents. The year of 2015 saw 38 deer-vehicle accidents in East Lansing, up from 31 the year before.

In their report to Council, staff indicate it is not feasible to add reflective tape or collars to deer in order to prevent car-deer crashes because deer are often obscured by vegetation before quickly leaping into the roadway. Reflectors along roadways meant to discourage deer from approaching roadways are not shown to work, particularly as deer become adapted to urban environments.

According to staff research, chemical and surgical sterilization is also viewed as not feasible, and chemical sterilization might result in harm to humans and other animals not intended as the targets.

As MLive has reported, a 10-1 vote by the Ann Arbor City Council to allow the killing of up to 100 deer this winter has caused considerable controversy in that city. Yesterday MLive reported that 51 deer have been “killed by sharpshooters this winter as of the end of last week,” and that in spite of this, new helicopter-conducted counts show the deer population is up since the last count, from 168 to 202.

Meridian Township has conducted a substantial deer cull. According to East Lansing staff’s report to East Lansing’s Council, “Meridian Township chose the managed hunt method of population control because they wanted to reduce the deer population to protect health, safety, and welfare in terms of car accidents and the threat of Lyme disease,” which is spread via ticks that travel on deer.

The East Lansing staff report notes that Lyme disease is traveling towards our region, coming from the western part of the state, but does not note that Lyme disease can also be transmitted via ticks that travel on mice, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and opossums. As we reported in an interview with tick-borne disease expert Graham Hickling, a University of Tennessee ecologist who does field research in Michigan, “More deer means more ticks, and large tick populations then support cycles of the Lyme bacteria among smaller wildlife such as mice and birds.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “there is no evidence that [dogs and cats] spread the disease directly to their owners,” but “pets can bring infected ticks into your home or yard.” The CDC recommends flea collars for pets.

Meridian Township’s Parks and Land Management Coordinator Jane Greenway is quoted in the East Lansing report as saying, “Many of our residents are experts at MSU or the State and it seems that they truly understand conservation and wildlife management and are not really approaching this from an emotional standpoint.”

The last East Lansing City Council appeared poised to change a local ordinance to allow the planned cull of deer in City-owned parks, but the matter is now in the hands of the current Council, which, as ELi has reported, has repeatedly put off decision-making on this matter since convening after the election in November.

The deer cull issue is listed only as a “deer update” on tonight’s Council agenda, but the Council could elect tonight to pass an ordinance that would allow organized hunting with bows and/or firearms, because Council has already held a public hearing on the ordinance last November.

 

Reminder: You can speak and write to Council on any topic, not only those in the published agenda.

Note: This article was corrected to indicate that a CWD-affected deer was found in Watertown Charter Township, not Watertown Township. The City staff memo said the latter, but Cathy DeShambo confirmed, in response to a question, the memo should have read "Watertown Charter Township," so we have corrected our report.

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