East Lansing Council Approves December Deer Cull in Divided Vote

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020, 7:45 am
Chris Gray

Photo of East Lansing deer taken this week by Gary Caldwell.

By a 3-2 vote, the East Lansing City Council voted Tuesday night to authorize the City Manager to hire federal sharpshooters to kill deer in specialized hunts on city parkland. The earliest the cull would occur would be December 2020.

The motion that passed, put forth by former mayor and Council Member Mark Meadows, authorizes the City Manager to conduct a deer management program which may include but is not limited to use of U.S. Department of Agriculture professional sharpshooters, and to direct the meat (after safety testing) to local food-aid programs.

The measure passed also calls for “appropriate notification to the East Lansing community” of the management program to be utilized prior to commencement of the program.

Above: John Revitte, who recently lost a bid for City Council, urges a cull (photo by Raymond Holt)

The narrow vote came after hours of passionate debate from residents on one side upset at the ruminants destroying their landscaping and presenting disease and accident risk, and those critical of or even heartbroken at the thought of killing animals on the other. It also came after about a decade of discussions of deer management in the City.

After the vote, animal-rights activist Curtis Vollmar from Lansing shouted “Human supremacy!” at the Council before slamming the door and exiting in a dramatic fashion.

Above: Curtis Vollman urges Council not to vote to kill deer (photo by Raymond Holt)

But the Council was unbowed, with only Mayor Ruth Beier sticking steadily to her opposition to any hunt.

“I can’t be the mayor who votes to kill the deer,” Beier said. “I also don’t believe that it will work.” She thinks the cull will not make enough of a difference to placate the residents calling for it.

Above: Mayor Ruth Beier listens to a citizen (photo by Raymond Holt)

Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens voted with Beier against the measure, continuing to argue for his idea for a citywide advisory ballot vote in August, while acknowledging that approach's shortcomings.

Before voting in favor of allowing a specially-contracted hunt, Meadows listed off the names of opponents of a deer cull — including his own wife. But he read a longer list of names of residents supportive of the targeted hunt, and said his conversations with voters in the election season confirmed for him that reining in the deer population was high on the list of average people’s concerns.

As an active member of the Sierra Club, Meadows also explained how species other than humans can get “outside their natural order,” particularly in a humanmade environment like East Lansing, where white-tailed deer have few if any predators other than automobiles.

“There comes a time when there’s not enough food for the deer to eat,” Meadows said.

Above: Council Member Mark Meadows speaking (photo by Raymond Holt)

The Council authorization allows City Manager George Lahanas to contract with the USDA to thin the herd with lethal means, but leaves open the possibility of using other means to control the population. Lahanas said a program using professional firearm sharpshooters would be done in a highly safe fashion with silencers, so that residents would not be harmed and would not hear loud guns going off.

Lahanas asked for an initial budget of $20,000. More than that would require additional approval from the Council, which would preclude him from running up a large bill on more expensive measures, such as trapping deer or implementing birth control on the does.

“I don’t think this is writing a blank check to do any deer management protocol out there,” said Council Member Jessy Gregg, who voted to approve a cull, along with Council Member Lisa Babcock.

Above: Veronica Wilkerson Johnson asks Council not to approve a cull (photo by Raymond Holt)

Opponents from the public noted their love for the deer.

“We are very fortunate to share our land in East Lansing with the deer,” said East Lansing resident Meri Anne Stowe, who lives on Hitching Post Road in the Whitehills neighborhood. “We tend to think that because we are humans that we are more important than other animals. There’s no problem that can be solved with a bullet and a gun.”

Above: Meri Anne Stowe objects to killing deer (photo by Raymond Holt)

Vollmar echoed Stowe’s remarks, but upped the ante, equating deer hunting with the chattel slavery of African people. He argued that killing animals was motivated by “speciesism,” a system of oppression he named as on par with racism, sexism, and heterosexism.

“Humane killing isn’t a thing,” Vollmar argued. “Humane and these things don’t go together.”

Cull supporters said the deer had created an imbalance and are actively harming other species living in East Lansing.

“The size of the deer herd is beyond the capacity of our neighborhood to support,” said Patrick Sheetz of Woodingham Drive. “These are deer that are coming on our porches. If we let them in, they will kiss us. They love strawberry plants, and they will take them all.”

Above: Patrick Sheetz supports a cull (photo by Raymond Holt)

“We have changed the environment to let the deer live here,” said East Lansing resident George Latkas. “It is not their natural environment.”

East Lansing’s Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo told Council that federal and state wildlife management experts will work closely with the City to determine the safest and most effective way to thin the herd.

She ruled out a hunt before summer, explaining that the USDA sharpshooters are booked up for the rest of the season and would not conduct a hunt once spring arrived.

She added that killed deer would be tested for chronic wasting disease, for which some area deer tested positive in 2015, before any venison would be distributed to food pantries.


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