Deer Encroachment and Damage in East Lansing Neighborhoods

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Thursday, August 21, 2014, 4:14 pm
Ray Vlasin
Ray Vlasin shows the damage caused by deer to a tree in his yard

On June 19th representatives from seven neighborhood associations came together at a meeting hosted by the Harrison Meadows Association. The other six neighborhoods participating were Walnut Heights, The Crossings, Shaw Estates, Whitehills, Abbott Parkside, and Pinecrest. They heard from Cathy DeShambo of East Lansing Public Works who is leading the city’s response to problems caused by growing deer herd size and encroachment into the residential neighborhoods of the city.  These problems include health and safety concerns and widespread property damage. The City of East Lansing is currently addressing the deer problems via a feeding ban ordinance, but to date has no formal deer management plan. Damages to private properties for some neighborhood residents are reported by them to be in the thousands of dollars. 

Residents report destroyed trees, shrubs, vines, gardens and flower beds, plus trampled lawns. They hold that these damages alone show the deer herd is overpopulated in the area. The deer create these damages mainly at night, but are more recently emboldened to cause them in the daylight as well. Residents sustaining these damages are becoming increasingly impatient, and for some their feelings have turned to anger.

Damage caused by deer to plants in Ray Vlasin's yard

Neighboring Meridian Township is in the fourth year of a program of managed deer hunt. In a March 13, 2014 Meridian Township Police Department Neighborhood Leaders Meeting, law enforcement personnel and township officials indicated the deer management plan is successful and functioning well. Nick Sanchez, working in the program, reports that in 2013 they harvested 127 deer. Their hunt occurs during bow season from October 1 until January 1. Currently, township personnel are exploring additional out-of -season hunting that would also utilize their screening, proficiency testing, and selection of bow hunters to participate in the program.

Some East Lansing neighborhood residents wonder why the city is not able to move aggressively to stem the damage from the growing deer population. Residents also worry that the deer may pose a health threat. Two neighbors in the Harrison Meadows Association, who asked to remain anonymous, indicated that they would not let their grandchildren play in their yards this spring because of the perceived health hazard from deer feces. Some residents are also concerned by the safety problem deer present on area roads, and of the recent deaths of two young men from a deer-car accident in Holt.

At the meeting on June 19th, Ms. DeShambo informed participants of the proposed ordinance to ban deer feeding in East Lansing, which has since been passed by the City Council as Ordinance 1334. Under the ordinance, approved on July 8th, violations will be treated as municipal civil offences. Fines for violators would be $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses. The new ordinance constitutes a first step in the emerging process of dealing with the deer problems. While speaking at the July 8th City Council meeting in support of  Ordinance 1334, participants indicated that the sizeable damages, along with their health and safety concerns, can only be abated by an aggressive deer management plan in which the city and the afflicted residents cooperate.

Ms. DeShambo also indicated that the City has engaged two wildlife specialists from MSU and will hold an educational/informational meeting for citizens later this summer. She shared that some new information will be obtained from the participants at this meeting, and that the City plans to assess the size of the deer herds and their effects. Once the new information is obtained, and the assessments are completed, a deer management plan will be developed and reviewed. Then the plan will be advanced to the City Council for discussion and action.

While a survey of East Lansing residents’ attitudes toward deer management was conducted in 2011, most of those attending the June 19th meeting were not aware of that survey and had not been able to voice their concerns about the deer population, its damages or its management. As of this writing the date and place of the proposed informational meeting this summer, or what added information will be sought by the City, are unknown.

In the meantime, residents sustaining damages have urged the City to aggressively implement Ordinance 1334 through information and action. They report that some uninformed residents continue to feed the deer, and feel that this causes ongoing property damage. Representatives of the neighborhoods also urged that a City deer management plan be developed, approved, and implemented this coming winter. They do not want another spring to come that will add further to the current deer population. Residents have reported observing herds of deer as large as 21 animals on or behind their property.

Disclosure:  Ray Vlasin is Co-chair of the Harrison Meadows Association and his property has sustained over $10,000 in deer caused damage.


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