What safety precautions is the City of East Lansing taking during the ongoing deer cull in some City parks? What metrics is the City using to determine if culling deer has been successful? We bring you the answers to these questions and more in this Ask ELi to Investigate grab bag.
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What safety precautions are being taken for using rifles within the City limits?
The City of East Lansing’s Parks and Rec Director Cathy DeShambo told ELi over email on Jan. 12, “There is simply nothing more important than safety,” and outlined some of the precautions that the City has taken.
For one, the City has hired “professionals instead of hunters to remove deer,” according to DeShambo, who noted that, according to a 2019 survey, residents preferred having professionals, who were highly trained in the use of firearms, execute the culls, rather than amateur hunters.
Using professionals, DeShambo told ELi over email, will “ensure safety and to ensure that the removal could be conducted in as few evenings as possible, with as little disruption to the community as possible.”
Prior to carrying out the culls, DeShambo told ELi, “biologists have spent significant time in East Lansing’s parks, noting the patterns of usage and determining the safest areas for removal.”
DeShambo also pointed to the steps the City has taken to inform the public of the culling. Signs are posted at affected parks to inform the community and letters were sent to residents of properties bordering parks that will be targeted in the cull, according to DeShambo.
On evenings when culls occur, DeShambo told ELi that “barricades and large closure signs will be in place at all known entrances to the parks, including main entries, footpaths, parking lots, trailheads and cut throughs.”
DeShambo also added in her response that the Michigan Division of the USDA Wildlife Services “have never had a safety incident during deer removal operations, meaning no people or pets have been harmed during a deer removal.”
What was the estimated deer population in EL before this year’s cull?
According to DeShambo, the City does not keep data on this because the City “cannot conduct observations or studies on private land.” She also noted that deer move around frequently, “often many miles,” which complicates tracking.
But the City does track some deer activity on City-owned property.
DeShambo said, “We have conducted observations and trail cam studies on City property so that we have very rough estimates and indications of frequency of deer activity over a number of years, but only on City property.”
How many deer could East Lansing theoretically sustain?
DeShambo explained that any given area – urban, rural, or underdeveloped – can only sustain so many deer, “based on the biological carrying capacity of the area.” That carrying capacity depends on the availability of the right types of vegetation and cover being available to deer.
“There is plenty for deer to eat in East Lansing, so this [local] biological carrying capacity might not be exceeded easily,” DeShambo said.
“To my knowledge there is no minimum threshold deer density for urban areas because of the comments mentioned,” DeShambo said. (More on that in the next question.)
What metrics are the City using to determine if a cull is necessary?
To put it simply, the City looks at quality-of-life concerns.
Given that local gardens and forests could sustain many deer, the City pays more attention to what human communities can tolerate, a concept sometimes referred to as wildlife acceptance capacity or social carrying capacity, DeShambo told ELi.
“In some areas, people may be willing to ‘accept’ more deer despite the damage/issues they might cause than in other areas where there are actually fewer deer,” said DeShambo. “This really gets at the negative deer/human encounters or impacts that occur when deer are present in areas that create conflict.”
The City, according to DeShambo, has relied on community feedback “along with metrics such as deer vehicle accident data and data concerning CWD [chronic wasting disease] and Lyme disease.”
DeShambo told ELi that 20 deer per square mile is often cited as good for sustaining ecosystems, but qualified that “20 deer in a densely populated urban neighborhood can create negative impacts to quality of life.”
In explaining why the City focuses on quality-of-life concerns, she referenced “a deer running through an open door into a home and ravaging the home’s interior trying to escape, as has happened to one of our residents this past year.”
How will the City decide if the culls have been successful?
There is no numerical metric to gauge the success of the cull. It appears as though qualitative metrics will be used instead, and it’s not clear how those will be measured.
The City does have some rough estimates regarding the deer population in East Lansing, though.
In order to receive a permit for deer removal from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), the City must provide information on “data and community input and actions that we have taken in regards to deer management.”
“MDNR asks communities to develop an initial estimate that is conservative,” said DeShambo. “The number is completely flexible and can be augmented if needed.”
This is what happened in East Lansing last year. The City received an initial permit to cull 50 deer, but the fact that deer were culled quicker than anticipated suggested that the density of deer in East Lansing was higher than initially thought, DeShambo told ELi. So, more were killed.
“Typically, communities find that the first couple of years of removal activities may result in subsequent years of more maintenance type, lower levels of removals,” said DeShambo. “We have just started our second year of removal and will be looking to the community for feedback concerning relief, impacts, satisfaction and collecting data to determine how we continue to proceed.”