Ask ELi: When Will the Deer Be Culled?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

An ELi reader with deer “all over near my house” asked, “What is happening to the planned deer cull approved by EL Council” in a 3-2 vote in February of this year?

In response to the request, we asked East Lansing’s Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo a handful of questions about the cull — namely when it will be, how it will work, and how the City is handling the polarizing issue of managing deer herds. 

When is the deer cull that City Council approved going to happen?

Because the City is still planning the cull and applying for permits with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, DeShambo said, the exact range of dates hasn’t been determined. 

The cull is expected to occur soon, though, because “the Council-approved cull is proposed to take place this winter,” DeShambo said.

The cull will be the first the City has undertaken, according to DeShambo. 

What prompted a majority of Council to approve this cull, and what else is the City doing about deer management?

“The City began receiving concerns from residents in certain areas of the City that deer were causing conflict with residential landscapes and gardens over the last 8-9 years,” DeShambo said. “Over those years, the City has engaged in a number of activities with regard to Deer Management.”

Firstly, DeShambo said, the City sought to get community input and educate the community on deer herds. In 2012, the City did a resident survey on the matter, and staff have undertaken similar surveys in recent years. (One is currently available.) Other actions included community forums, presentations at neighborhood meetings, and updates from Council. 

A dedicated page on the City website was also created. It includes extensive resources like a history of studies by the City, information for residents on deer-resistant gardening, and tips for avoiding a deer collision while driving.

Additionally, City staff consulted with MSU, the Michigan DNR, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. Staff also worked on collecting and tracking data on deer-vehicle collisions and herd numbers. In 2019, MSU staff installed trail cameras throughout City parks to take an even closer look at the composition of the deer population.

“That data will help inform the cull and the trail cams will be re-installed and additional data collected post cull to look at efficacy,” DeShambo said.

As for legislative actions, in 2014, the City Council banned feeding deer with Ordinance 1334.

A year later, when a deer in Meridian Township was discovered to have Chronic Wasting Disease, the DNR offered to include the City’s parks in its surveillance cull. 

Council declined the offer, but “they did adopt Ordinance 1358 that allowed for exceptions to the prohibition of hunting within the City for officers acting in the discharge of their duties or persons acting under the direction of the State of Michigan as part of a wildlife control protocol approved by the City Council,” DeShambo said.

Then, this February, a majority of Council approved the proposed upcoming cull.

Mark Meadows, Jessy Gregg, and Lisa Babcock voted in favor. Meadows said the deer had gotten “outside their natural order” in our human-made suburban environment.

Ruth Beier and Aaron Stephens voted against. Beier said at the time, “I can’t be the mayor who votes to kill the deer” and “I also don’t believe that it will work.” Stephens wanted the voters to decide the issue.

How will the cull actually work?

DeShambo says, “The City will apply for a permit through the Michigan DNR and will enter into a contract with USDA Wildlife Services for the cull.” Sharpshooters from the USDA Wildlife Services will undertake the selective killing of animals on City parkland. Residents will be notified in advance.

Clearly, deer management is a polarizing subject. How does the City manage differing public opinions on deer management?

Some people love seeing deer amble through their yard. Others are more like the ELi reader who asked hopefully about the cull, saying, “if anyone is interested, I have some excellent venison recipes.”  

DeShambo acknowledged the tricky nature of balancing deer management and public sentiment.

“Many factors can contribute to how you feel about seeing deer and certainly how you feel about various management methods,” she said. “This can be a divisive topic for communities, which is why the City spent considerable time and effort, and will continue to focus time and effort, around community input and engagement. Conducting a cull will not result in the elimination of deer from the City, but it is an option to begin to provide relief for those parts of the City that report higher levels of deer conflicts.”

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