Legal Stage Set for Possible Deer Cull
Image courtesy of Michigan State University
Last night at its regularly-scheduled meeting, East Lansing’s City Council passed an ordinance that gives Council the ability to authorize the killing of deer by government-authorized hunters on City-owned land. Council members were divided on the question of whether organized culls should begin soon. A previous proposal had called for government-employed hunters killing as many deer as possible in East Lansing’s White Park and Harrison Meadows Park.
We reported earlier this week that there are many issues of concern with regard to deer, including but not limited to chronic wasting disease, deer-car accidents, inadvertent promotion of invasive plant species (as deer generally prefer to eat native species), the spread of tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease, and damage to private landscaping.
Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier indicated last night she might be in favor of a cull in the future, if some issue related to the deer becomes more significant. Mayor Mark Meadows said he was comfortable with the idea of a cull and was glad to have a mechanism in place for Council to authorize a cull if Council so decided.
Councilmember Susan Woods said that while she is “an enormous animal lover,” if we had “vandals coming into town and tagging all of our buildings,” we would “go and pursue them.” She said the deer constituted vandals. She also named Lyme disease as a “horrible, chronic” disease and said she was concerned with deer-car accidents, especially for inadequately insured car owners. “I think we need to do something,” she told Council.
The ordinance as presented to Council for review last night did not specify that any cull first be specifically approved by City Council, but Beier recommended they add that requirement. Council unanimously supported Beier’s recommendation. Mayor Mark Meadows said that it was important that Council, not staff, make the decision to authorize a cull since if questions were raised about a cull, Council would be on the receiving end of those questions.
At last night’s meeting, East Lansing’s Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo answered extensive questions from Council. She indicated repeatedly that she hopes that the community can come to some degree of consensus on what would count as “success” in the City’s deer management program. DeShambo said it is important for there to be established metrics against which programs can be measured for success or lack thereof.
Councilmembers Erik Altmann and Shanna Draheim agreed with the need for specific goals of management strategies, including for any culls. Draheim said she thinks culls can be “a vital management tool.” She said she was concerned about chronic wasting disease as well as property damage, although she found the latter issue less compelling.
If funding for culls by other government agencies (like the Michigan Department of Natural Resources) becomes available in the future, Draheim said, it would be good for the City to be ready to say “yes.” But, Draheim added, she still had concerns about how effective a culling approach can be in a community like East Lansing.
As we previously reported, the number of deer-car accidents in East Lansing has been increasingly steadily over the last several years. In response to questions from Altmann last night, DeShambo said that Meridian Township’s recent cull had resulted in about 800 deer being killed, and that this had not reduced the number of deer-car accidents.
DeShambo also said that the hunters doing the cull in Meridian Township parks reported that as they were leaving in the morning after nighttime hunts, they would see more deer moving into the parks where hunters had just been trying to reduce the population.
Surveillance of deer and deer-car accidents in East Lansing indicates that the Red Cedar Neighborhood area has a particularly dense concentration of deer. DeShambo noted to Council that land ownership in that area (near Trowbridge Road) is complex, with some land being owned by MSU, some by Lansing, some by East Lansing, and some by private owners. This complicates efforts to carry out management strategies.
DeShambo said that one challenge with usage signage to warn humans or with special lighting features to try to steer deer away from roads is that “people and deer become habituated” to these visual cues and stop paying attention to them. She said that seasonal usage might make the use of visual cues more effective. She also said the City might ask some owners of property along Coolidge Road to cut back on vegetation near the road, as that creates a place for deer to hide before wandering into the roadway.
High fencing along roadways in an effort to steer deer into a kind of “crosswalk” is also not possible, according to DeShambo, as the fencing would have to be very high and would require fencing of private properties in most areas.
Whether natural areas in parkland are over-browsed by deer depends on how you see the situation, according to DeShambo. In response to a question from Councilmember Shanna Draheim, DeShambo said the City continues to track invasive species through environmental stewardship programming.
But there is no question some homeowners have experienced high levels of destruction of their property plantings. According to DeShambo, some homeowners are unintentionally and unwillingly providing an “abundant array” of food for deer. Some are suffering very large losses, running into thousands of dollars. DeShambo also said that, on City-owned land, the City is having to protect young trees with guards to try to stop deer from destroying them before they mature.
DeShambo made clear in her presentation that management of deer can be unpredictable and ultimately unsatisfying. Altmann suggested it was important to ensure that homeowners not be misled into thinking culls in City-owned parks would necessarily stop deer from wandering onto their properties and destroying plantings.
Council discussed with DeShambo the existing ban in East Lansing on purposefully feeding deer. DeShambo said that doing so is not good for the deer, nor for neighbors. She said that City staff had gotten inquiries about how to turn in neighbors violating the ban and said the City needs a mechanism for dealing with that.
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