Are Ann Arbor’s deer enough of a threat to warrant firepower?

Recently, city government voted to reduce Ann Arbor’s deer population by putting sharpshooters in community parks. Though we’re not at biological carrying capacity and certainly don’t have an overpopulation, and council members admit this is not driven by neither public health nor safety, they have decided to kill the deer in order to save the plants they are eating.

This is not just about tulips, but an alarming new trend -- what I call the “Green Scare” -- put forward mostly by those who, under an “ecological” guise seek to eradicate any plant or animal not currently in popular favor. It is not out of respect for nature, but rather a futile, endless, damaging attempt to control nature.

Deer are native to the Northern America and are present in every county in Michigan. They are “edge animals” living on the boundaries between fields and farms, parks and neighborhoods. “Urban deer” are a phenomenon across the country -- in many places a result of keeping the population artificially high for the hunting industry. Many are the offspring of deer seeking safer land in places where there is less hunting -- only becoming a nuisance to some because of our own planting habits, habitat destruction and fragmented green spaces that concentrate in a way that causes conflict with humans.

To be clear, this battle has nothing do with recreational hunting or what people eat; it is about how we effectively, safely and humanely manage wildlife in suburban community. Culling can make people feel like we’re doing something, but really we are just chasing our tails.

Communities that cull experience an endless cycle of violence and community strife, not to mention a perpetual budget item.

Opposing view: Why ecologists support Ann Arbor's deer cull

Though Ann Arbor says we’ll use up to $140,000 of taxpayer money for each of the next four years for a cull, we have no data on why a cull is needed -- nor do we have a goal on what the cull is supposed to achieve. How many deer are acceptable? What plants are endangered and where? What are our goals? Other cities study deer management for years -- gathering data on population and impact to determine the scope of the problem and the most effective next steps. Wildlife experts always recommend communities try non-lethal methods first. But Ann Arbor is shooting first, measuring later.

Whether you care about deer or not, does that sound like sound public policy making to you? Or does it sound like another political quick fix to appease a vocal special interest group?

Many people raised concerns about the real need, and that culls are widely proven to be an ineffective, ongoing waste of money (because the population will rebound each year as the birth rate increases and new deer migrate into the city, they have to be done over and over). Some don’t want a guns-first solution before any practical methods have been attempted (a reasonable expectation particularly in a world of violence and strife). Others are alarmed by the city’s decision-making process and lack of community engagement. And a majority are worried about safety. All have been disregarded.

Fast forward to Ann Arbor’s selected vendor, its partner, the group that will execute the cull: the USDA Wildlife Services. Haven’t heard of the USDA Wildlife Services? I hadn’t either. What I discovered was shocking (and this from someone who’s seen much of the darker aspects of humanity).

For several years, the USDA Wildlife Services has been under a vast amount of criticism for cruel and corrupt practices -- criticism not just by those in animal welfare, but by investigative journalists, environmental organizations, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

When you look on the USDA website you won’t see services for culling deer. Deer culls simply provide target practice for their sharpshooters in the slower winter months. Helping to rid the country of natural predators, they now add prey animals to their kill list for extra job security.

The City of Ann Arbor said they did their homework. They said they have no other choice. They said their conscience is clear.

They just announced that they will be shooting in 26 neighborhood parks in Ann Arbor. Parks tucked between homes. Parks where people jog and walk their dogs, where kids play and teens hang out. And that they are closing those parks between January 1 to March 31, between 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. Twenty-six parks will be unusable and unsafe during most of the hours people use them for three months.

Where is the crisis that merits this ongoing taxpayer expense; that warrants tearing apart community trust and cohesion; that justifies making our parks dangerous and unusable; that excuses bringing in a rogue and brutal contractor to do our culling?

Are 168 deer in Ann Arbor really the problem? Or could it be government making really bad decisions.

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Fri, 12/18/2015 - 2:16pm
Even though I first heard about this story on Frank Beckmann's show on 'JR earlier this year, I've got to hand it to Ms. Hilgendorf for putting a smile on my face this afternoon. I find it amusing to read about how local government always seem to find new ways of blowing through other people's money in order to make themselves feel good about something. OABTW, she is 100% correct about he fact that these culls will only exasperate the problem. It's too bad that there isn't some school or other institute of learning in the area where the A^2 city council (or maybe even the residents supporting this cull) could learn about why their actions will not work? Oh well, stupidity should be painful.
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 3:04pm
It would be interesting to know who is behind this, was it a neighborhood association, someone important with connections to city govt. that pressured this to be done or what?
Fri, 12/18/2015 - 4:01pm
If I were a betting man in this situation, I'd say that it was someone important in A^2 who made the ultimate call.
C.O. Austin
Mon, 01/18/2016 - 8:28am
Evidently, as I read in another online article, it was a landscaper who is behind this.
C.O. Austin
Tue, 01/19/2016 - 2:40pm
Further research reveals that the people behind this effort are a bunch of garden snobs that want to have "show" gardens. The only way to accomplish this is to have cycle after cycle of deer kills because they want to plant things deer like to eat. This reveals the extent to which some people will go with their narrowminded stupidity.
Pat Van Riper
Sat, 12/19/2015 - 8:25am
When I first read about the deer cull, I could not believe killing was the only option "we thinking people" could come up with. I live on the edge of the city. I have a park in my neighborhood. I have not seen any evidence that we have a deer overpopulation. I talked to my brother, an avid hunter, about our deer overpopulation and the kill solution. He just looked at me and shook his head. I have learned one thing from this. I can not rely on the city council to make sound decisions. They need to go. I will use my vote to make that happen. I am asking all Ann Arbor voters who want sound reliable city government to join me.
Carmen M. Youngs
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 7:27am
We need to ensure the safety of our future leaders (our children). My thoughts are that children are naturally curious. There are some children that will be interested in witnessing a sharpshooter killing a deer. City council , sending a message of hatred and violence because of the dietary choice of deer by permitting sharp shooters to kill is not morally right!
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 8:43am
This is typical of Ms. Hilgendorf's statements both in its use of misleading and false statements and in its hyperbolic language. Look at that last sentence. "excuses bringing in a rogue and brutal contractor to do our culling" Why suppose that the contractor will be "brutal"? They will be using guns, yes, and are skilled. Deer will be killed quickly and the meat will be donated to Food Gatherers for use in food distribution sites. "Rogue"? It is the USDA Wildlife Service. They have contracted with many communities. These are the professionals. What justifies calling them "rogue"? She says that parks will be closed "when people use them most". First of all, this is closure at night, in the middle of the winter. Parks normally close at sunset, so this is loss of an hour or two at the beginning of the night. Also, the parks will not be closed on weekends. Once the target number of deer (100) have been culled, the closure will be lifted. For those who really want to know about Ann Arbor's deer management program, all documents can be found here:
C.O. Austin
Tue, 01/19/2016 - 2:42pm
No one gives a shite about deer meat so stop talking about it like its important.
A Zimmer
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 10:29am
The over population of deer in urban/suburban areas has been a problem for many years. Numerous studies have been done and methods attempted, but none seems to satisfy everyone or completely solve the problem. Other than building 8 to 10 feet exclusion fences, communities will have to struggle to find solutions that fit their budgets and the will of the residents. Educating the public about the harm over populations of deer do to the environment as well as the very real safety dangers they pose may help make control efforts more palatable.
Matt G.
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 10:36am
Right or wrong about the issue, this is a series of very weak arguments laced with hyperbole. The "haven't heard of this?" type of thing is just an attempt to make people afraid of things they haven't heard of while linking to articles laced with more hyperbole.
W. Hsu
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 3:29pm
Ms. Hilgendorf isn't the only one calling USDA Wildlife Services "rogue." Both sides of Congress agree they're off the rails. (When was the last time we had bi-partisan agreement on something?) I did some research myself and found this - the intentional and unintentional kills reported by USDA in FY 2013. ( I, for one, am worried about the number of unintentional ones.
Lee Walkowski
Sun, 12/20/2015 - 11:45pm
I live in Midland. We had similar problem. Deer/auto accidents are another problem. The city tried large cages with the intent to relocate the deer to areas away from the city. In areas with most complaints also contained people opposed to anything at all about the deer population. As soon as a deer sprung a trap these people would open the trap and allow the deer to get out. City finally gave up and said they all just had to live with it. Tired of wasting time and money on endless conflict. By the way, they also considered sharpshooters but only archery sharpshooters. After all, guns are not allowed within the city limits. Also considered danger of missed shots or a shot penetrating the target with enough kinetic energy to do damage to people or property. My advise? Get a camera and enjoy the wild life.
Mon, 12/21/2015 - 10:25am
Ms. Hilgendorf, When lobbying for the exclusive use of non-lethal methods for managing Ann Arbor's growing urban deer herd, you and HSHV agreed that Ann Arbor had a deer management problem. Once the Ann Arbor city council voted to use culling to managing Ann Arbor's deer herd, your messaging and that of HSHV immediately changed. Suddenly Ann Arbor didn't have too many deer in your eyes. What happened to all the passion and confidence you and HSHV projected with lobbying for birth control and sterilization for managing Ann Arbor's deer herd? Where is the detailed plan, including a budget, for moving forward with non-lethal methods you spoke so confidently about? Why, exactly, are these non-lethal methods no longer a part of your message? I never realized that HSHV was such a political organization.
Bernie Banet
Tue, 12/22/2015 - 11:00am
Tanya Hilgendorf has everything backwards. Ann Arbor’s process was not “Shoot First” but a very slow and reluctant slog to the conclusion that only lethal methods would reduce an overabundant deer population. Ann Arbor’s year-long study of the problem and the scientific literature on the subject did not reveal that lethal deer management methods don’t work and nonlethal ones do, but exactly the opposite. The question of public safety, rather than being irrelevant to Ann Arbor’s deer discussion was very much part of the process due to fears by drivers of deer-vehicle collisions and by the advance of Lyme disease from the Lake Michigan shore toward Washtenaw County. The decision to have sharpshooters thin the herd was not justified by a “green scare” valuing a few plants more than deer, but was a move to protect entire ecosystems of woodlands and prairies from a single species, deer, whose numbers were becoming destructive because herd size is no longer controlled by natural predators such as wolves and cougars. Deer are not increasingly visible in cities because we have eliminated their habitats or chased them away from hunters. They are a growing presence, and nuisance, because our suburban and urban “edge” habitat is excellent for them and they reproduce very quickly in no-hunting areas. The use of safe urban and parkland culls to control a deer population where hunting is prohibited is not somehow in a different ethical universe from recreational hunting. In Michigan, where hunters harvest over 300,000 deer each year with state encouragement, using professional sharpshooters to remove 100 deer has no reason at all to cause such focused moral outrage. Tanya Hilgendorf’s other "facts" are wrong. The budget is not $140,000 per year. Ann Arbor does not have only 168 deer and the helicopter count was never represented as an accurate census. USDA sharpshooters in Michigan are not cruel destroyers of predators who need target practice and obtain job security by killing members of a prey species in their downtime. The parks of Ann Arbor, always closed at night anyway, will not be rendered unsafe and unusable because of closures of some of the parks in Ward 1 and 2 during winter evenings. Lastly, the "tearing apart community trust and cohesion," to the extent that it has occurred, is primarily the result of the aggressively disseminated misrepresentations by animal rights advocates, not the City of Ann Arbor's reasoned and deliberate decision making process..
Mary Valerie Richter
Tue, 12/22/2015 - 3:42pm
Mr. Banet thinks this has been a slow process because he has been unhappy about the deer eating his garden since about 2009. He was one of the first people to contact Ann Arbor City Council to propose a shoot. It took him a while to find enough like-minded neighbors, but he did. He formed a small neighborhood group to push for a deer shoot, and then teamed up with a larger pro-kill group. The group is called Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, is fear-based, and has lots of misinformation on their website, i.e., Lyme disease, vehicle/deer collisions in Ann Arbor, etc. In my view, Ann Arbor City Council has done a rush-job putting together a shoot, and it's becoming more evident as the plan unfolds. As far as the number of deer in Ann Arbor, the first flyover put the count at 116; the second at 168. For every document that supports a shoot, there are many that do not. Deer culls are ineffective. Rochester Hills stopped their deer cull. In our community, Barton Hills Village attorney Bruce Laidlaw helped Barton Hills with the legal work needed for a DNR deer cull. He stated: "Barton Hills has some big vacant areas that seemed ideal for deer culling. Deer blinds and bait were placed in the vacant areas. The results were disappointing. There deer seemed to quickly learn to stay out of the hunting areas. There was hardly a dent in the deer population. The culling program was abandoned. If the City proceeds with a lethal culling, be prepared for disappointing results. State law requires a safety zone that draws a 450 radius around the hunters. There can be no occupied building within that zone. In the case of a densely populated City, that severely limits where shooting can occur." Tanya's numbers indicate the $140K over four years, so his response that she indicated a $140 K budget per year is a misinterpretation. That said, according to the Ann Arbor Budget for 2016 the Deer Management allotment = $90k FY 16 and $20k FY 17. That adds up to $110 K over 2 years. The reason Ann Arbor's Mayor Taylor does not support the shoot is because our community is very divided on this issue. The community survey that was originally put out was biased toward a cull, and even with that factored in, there is not a majority in favor of a shoot. If this was put to a citizen vote, AND all the details were made transparent, this community would not approve of closing our parks for three-months, bringing weapons into our parks, and allowing shooting via an opaque government entity that has a history of brutal and unethical practices, and bloodying our beautiful nature areas.
C.O. Austin
Mon, 01/18/2016 - 8:43am
Thank you Valerie for explaining how this got started. The argument goes like this "Let's kill all the deer so we can plant plants that attract deer." This cannot be effective no matter what your concerns are.
C.O. Austin
Mon, 01/18/2016 - 8:50am
Thank you Mary for explaining how this got started. The argument goes like this "Let's kill all the deer so we can plant plants that attract deer." This cannot be effective no matter what your concerns are.
Marcia Feingold
Tue, 12/22/2015 - 4:04pm
Ms. Armentrout: Thanks for your sensible and calmly-stated comments. I agree completely.
Cynthia Greene
Tue, 12/22/2015 - 6:24pm
As someone who was subject to an unavoidable collision last winter, not much more than a mile from downtown, with my son in the front seat, I am sensitive to this problem. Besides that Ms. Hilgendorf's arguments are half-baked, I find her willingness to whine to be distasteful. Where is her leadership? Who is stopping her and all of the anti-cull camps from organizing volunteer corps and securing funding from her well-padded organization or seeking donations to set up programs to actualize the alternative programs, sterilization, etc.? I'm tired of the cheap shots at our actual leaders.
phyllis ponvert
Mon, 12/28/2015 - 2:40pm
December 27 2015 Dear members of City Council and Mayor Taylor, I continue to stand firmly against your misguided decision to hold a cull. The City of Ann Arbor government and the MDNR bears responsibility for applying for and receiving a permit for a cull without scientific evidence. For example: From the MDNR Deer Management Plan 2010 “ Deer hunting and deer management opinions and philosophies often elicit strong emotions among stakeholder groups and individuals. These opinions and philosophies can stem from long held traditions and ideals, which may be difficult to change. Developing educational materials that effectively impact Michigan citizens is difficult. The presentation of accurate, unbiased information that is based on sound science is essential when difficult or controversial ideas and concepts are being communicated. Researchers, managers and stakeholder groups generally agree an informed public is critical in creating a successful deer management .... •There are no reports in the May 2105 Deer Management Report based on sound science from researchers or stakeholder groups/ •New requests were added to the city’s application to the MDNR for a permit to hold a cull. They were added to the application without a vote and without informing residents. Is that permissible? These requests were to lift the 150 yd. safety zone and to allow shooting from a blind and/or a vehicle. •The City Attorney should have advised city council that your vote for a moratorium to lift the ordinance banning shooting in city parks cannot be changed by a moratorium. Didn’t he know there has to be an ordinance amendment to change the vote? The MDNR permit reads: " Shooting may not be conducted within 150 yards of an occupied building, dwelling, house, residence or cabin without obtaining the written permission of the owner," Please consider this scenario: Suppose I live near/in one of the parks where shooting can take place. I give my permission for the shooters to come within 25 ft. of my house. But my next door neighbor has not given them permission, and their house (and possibly other houses) is within the 450 ft. safety zone. This plan is not going to work unless the house is more than 450 ft. from the next house. How will the city handle this possible situation? Who does the homeowner ask for permission to? The city, the MDNR or the USDA? Who gives permission or denies it to the homeowner? How are the other homeowners notified? What if other homeowners don’t agree to their neighbor asking for no safety zone? How could this possibly be done? •"Shooting from a platform and /or a blind is allowed. Shooting from a vehicle is allowed.” (From the MDNR permit) eliminating the 450 ft. safety zone, (*requested by the city but denied by the MDNR) firing from a vehicle or a blind. (*Allowed by the MDNR) The city made safety an important issue by assuring residents that the shooters would be up in a tree, and would fire down on deer at the bait pile below, thereby eliminating the possibility of a stray bullet killing someone. You can't shoot down from a blind that's on the ground or from a vehicle. This is a dangerous departure from the concern for people’s safety. I continue to be convinced that the deer cull in Ann Arbor should be called off. Ann Arbor residents have many different reasons both pro and con the deer cull, but the single most compelling reason to cancel the cull is the lack of any researched scientific evidence that measured the effect of the deer herd in our parks and natural areas. I would appreciate a response from City Council and Mayor Taylor. Thank you, Phyllis Ponvert Ann Arbor
Jan E Tripp
Sat, 01/09/2016 - 1:55am
One of those 168 deer ran into our vehicle several weeks ago on Plymouth Road near the UM North Campus. Luckily, the deer escaped with nothing more than a headache and our brand new vehicle was undamaged. More importantly, my wife was uninjured in the incident. The driver who hit a large buck on Green Road last fall probably was not so lucky. I routinely see deer along the Plymouth road corridor while out on walks and saw a small herd of seven or eight on one occasion. We had a doe and her two fawns as guests in our back yard this past summer. The explosion of deer in Northeast Ann Arbor in the past five years is striking. I've seen more deer in the last five years than I saw in the first 25 years living here. I disagree with Ms.Hilgendorf's assertion that there isn't a deer overpopulation problem in Ann Arbor. The research and my experience says otherwise. I support the the deer cull as being necessary and the best option at this time. This is Ann Arbor and everyone gets to second guess the experts and politicians. Bad research, biased surveys, lack of government transparency, rogue contractors, and unusable parks; the list goes on.
D. Dale
Thu, 01/14/2016 - 10:34am
With a major in Conservation of Fisheries and Wildlife from that other university, I totally understand the necessity of culling the deer herd. In Michigan we cull the deer herd every Fall hunting season. If we don't cull, nature will, by starvation. This we know.
Wed, 03/02/2016 - 1:04pm
They're deer. They're not humans or domesticated animals. I sympathize with those who value a deer life for its own sake, but I don't. They're not endangered. I wouldn't want them to die needlessly, but hundreds of 100+ lb wild animals are a nuisance and potential hazard in an urban environment. An urban herd management plan (including culling as required) is the rational and grown-up thing to do.