We Asked About Deer, East Lansing. Here Are Your Answers.

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Monday, April 29, 2019, 7:18 am
Brad Minor

Although the City found a drop in deer population in East Lansing this past year in terms of the annual survey, some say the deer in East Lansing are out of control and it is time for the City to engage in a deer cull.

Reasons include a perception that deer are increasingly causing problems, from eating lawns and gardens to endangering drivers and cyclists.

To better understand how area residents feel about the deer population, ELi recently conducted a survey of readers who self-identified as living in East Lansing.

More than 330 people participated in our survey. You can see the summary results of the survey results here, and the individual responses here.

Respondents are seeing a lot of deer near their homes.

“An interesting change has occurred over our 24 years at this location,” wrote a Southeast Marble resident. “For our first 12 years, we seldom saw deer or tracks near our home. During the last 12 years, they have become more common. In the last 6 years, they are on the block most nights, and have made it hard to grow many items in the yard. Huge increase in deer pressure.”

ELi's survey asked residents how they would describe the deer population around their homes.

About 47 percent of respondents said they see deer around their homes “often,” 31 percent said they see deer around their homes “now and then,” 15 percent said they have only seen one or two deer in their neighborhoods before, and 8 percent said they have never seen a deer in their neighborhood. (Note that this was not a scientific sample, and people may have been more motivated to take the survey if they see deer as a problem.)

Sixty-two percent of respondents said they enjoy seeing the deer in natural areas around East Lansing, but only 44 percent said they enjoy seeing them near their homes.

“In the past few years, I have seen them on Sunset Lane, Whitehills Drive, and at [East Lansing High School] near the track. It is a pleasant surprise when it happens,” a resident of the Oakwood Historic neighborhood wrote.

But not everyone is happy to see them in populated areas.

Respondents say deer are doing a lot of landscaping damage.

A commonly expressed complaint in survey responses is the negative impact deer have on gardens and vegetation. 

Forty percent said they find the deer destructive to their yard, and 28 percent of the people surveyed said they have changed the landscape around their homes to cope with the deer.

“We have a herd of deer that roam our street most mornings,” wrote a Whitehills resident. “They will come right up to our front porch and eat whatever I have growing in my planter boxes. In the winter, they prefer the apple trees near the driveway.”

Two other common complaints associated with the rising deer population are vehicle-deer collisions (or near-collisions) and the perceived risk of spreading diseases.

“Besides destruction to landscaping, car-deer collisions are expensive and potentially hazardous to one's health,” a Pinecrest resident said.

“Has there been a tick problem in areas where deer are prevalent? Has chronic wasting been seen?” asked one Brookfield Heritage neighborhood resident.

Paige Filice recently reported for ELi that chronic wasting disease has been observed in a small number of deer in Ingham County. It does not transfer to humans, although the Michigan DNR advises hunters not to eat the meat of infected animals.

Should deer be culled?

ELi’s survey asked respondents to choose from among several statements expressing their thoughts on what the City should do regarding a cull (intentional killing of deer). The responses were mixed.

The most-chosen response (32 percent) was that "City Council should again discuss a cull, but I'm not sure what they should decide."

About half as many people (17 percent) said that Council should not discuss a cull at this time, but a total of about 30 percent felt that Council should pursue a cull. About 16 percent (in that total of 30 percent) said it should involve both professional bow hunters and professional firearm hunters, while 13 percent specifically favored bow hunters.

About 12 percent though Council should formally decide against any type of cull.

Meridian Township is culling.

Several area municipalities engage in annual deer culls for population control, including Meridian Township, which refers to its cull as a “Deer Management Harvest.” Rather than paying money to contract sharpshooters, Meridian Township invites interested residents to apply for special hunting permits that allow them to kill deer in otherwise restricted areas.

Meridian’s managed harvest takes place during bow and gun season starting October 1 and ending January 1. Hunters awarded the special permits by the Township are only allowed to use bows, not guns.

Once a hunter has passed a safety and proficiency test at MSU’s Demmer Center, Meridian Township assigns a specific area where they are allowed to hunt, and the hunter must report when they are active throughout the season.

But not everyone wants culling as a solution.

Ann Arbor regularly faces opposition to their yearly deer cull, which started in the winter of 2016. Some critics claim that sterilization would be a much more humane process compared to hiring sharpshooters to kill the animals, an idea echoed by one Whitehills resident: “Please explore birth control methods. Other places do it. I don’t support killing them, but the population needs managing. In the 24 years, I've lived in my house, deer went from being occasional to being a daily phenomenon. And, yes, they are destructive, but we need to learn how to accommodate both them and residents,” they said.

A Glencairn respondent also hopes that East Lansing doesn't follow Ann Arbor's suit, writing, “I hope we can be more rational than Ann Arbor has been about culling deer. I am a vegetarian who is quite concerned about animal suffering…We have eliminated all the natural predators of deer and their population is out of control.”

Some culling opponents say it’s not right to engage in a deer cull because humans are moving into areas where deer have traditionally lived.

“Our street used to be their meadow, we took over their home and they are trying to figure out where to go,” wrote one Northern Tier respondent. “Usually they head back north toward the open field back by the horse farm, let them be.”

Some respondents took the opportunity to suggest alternative solutions to culling, including replenishing plants that are food for deer “in areas we want them.”

The City has taken some action over the years.

The City of East Lansing has long-established partnerships with the USDA Wildlife Services, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and MSU to analyze deer population data in East Lansing.

In recent years, as complaints about the deer population have become common, the City has taken several steps to monitor and to try to mitigate the effects of the local deer population.

In July of 2014, City Council passed Ordinance No. 1334, which prohibits the feeding of deer in East Lansing.

But according to one East Lansing resident who lives near the intersection of Harrison and Lake Lansing Roads, some people are still feeding them: “People in my area feed them - it’s really not a good thing for the deer. Could we educate the public on the ill effects of this behavior?”

The City also participated in a meeting in 2014 hosted by the Harrison Meadows Association to gather community input on how best to handle the deer population. During that meeting, concerns raised included the growing size of the deer herds, the damage to vegetation, the fearless nature of the deer, and the feces they left behind.

In 2015, a disease surveillance deer cull was proposed by the Michigan DNR for Harrison Meadow Park and Whitehills Park. The proposed cull was in response to Chronic Wasting Disease being discovered in Meridian Township. The City held a public hearing on the proposed cull and, after hearing from citizens, Council deferred a decision.

The following year, City Council passed an ordinance that gave Council the ability to authorize a deer cull. The potential cull would only involve government-authorized hunters on City-owned land.

So far, Council has put off a decision on authorizing a deer cull in the City, but the ordinance will allow them to authorize a cull when and if they decide it’s necessary for community wellbeing.


Want to speak directly to City Council? Remember you can speak on any subject during Public Comment at meetings, and you can write to City Council at council@cityofeastlansing.com.


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