A year following the first government-run deer cull in the history of the City of East Lansing — which resulted in 65 deer being shot, killed, and removed from City parks — a new cull is poised to take place in early 2022 with the aim of taking out up to 100 deer. The plan is not without controversy.
City Manager George Lahanas announced at City Council’s Dec. 21 meeting, the last Council meeting of 2021, that certain parks around the City will be subject to early closures while United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sharpshooters occupy them overnight, hunting deer.
When posted, the parks will be closed from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m., and it will be illegal to enter when posted, Lahanas said at the meeting.
The culling will run from Jan. 3, 2022, to March 31, 2022, if needed. In the first cull in early 2021, the efforts were completed early, by Jan. 22, 2021, despite planning out a similar three-month timeframe. It is possible the cull this year will take slightly longer, because the hope is to remove more deer this time around.
Lahanas added, in his brief to City Council about the matter, that the City will again work with Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger to donate the venison (once it’s been tested for safety) to the Greater Lansing Food Bank.
And while the cull moves along for the second time, it is again an issue of acute tension for residents — some really want to see deer removed to stop property destruction and injury risk, while others detest the thought of having their government kill these animals.
The potential controversy is enough to keep the City from specifically saying which parks will be closed, and when. In Lahanas’ announcement, he just said parks will have the alternate hours “when posted,” at which point the entrance will also be barricaded.
At December’s Council of Neighborhood Presidents meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said the City will be closing down multiple parks, even if only one is being used, in an attempt to “obfuscate” potential protestors. She said such protests could be “unpleasant but also dangerous.”
The vast majority of the 65 deer killed in the early-2021 cull were removed from Abbot Road (29 deer) and Harrison Meadows Parks (21 deer). The remaining 15 deer that were killed were removed from Burcham Park, Henry Fine Park, White Park, and the Aquatic Center property.
By all accounts, that cull did not have much impact on the prevalence of deer in town. People who had deer in their yards before still report to ELi large quantities of the animals, and deer have now made it all the way south and north to Grand River Avenue in the residential neighborhoods. This is one reason the City is looking to carry out a more extensive cull this year.
But some residents have made clear they don’t like the idea of guns being used in parks near their homes. Others are categorically opposed to the government killing the deer and have been since City Council first approved a deer cull in early 2020 in a tense split vote.
Those opposed include now-Council member Dana Watson, who opposed the cull years ago and at the most recent Council meeting asked Lahanas for regular updates on the cull.
Some Pinecrest residents, in a letter to the City earlier this year, requested that the cull in Henry Fine Park — which borders their properties — be halted and reconsidered .
And, at the Nov. 23, 2021, City Council meeting, resident, wildlife rehabber and founder of Nottingham Nature Nook Cheryl Connell-Marsh spoke out against the cull. She said she had emailed letters and a petition to City Council opposing the first cull and got no response, so she felt it was necessary to come in person.
Connell-Marsh noted that she has been recognized for her public service rehabilitating injured and orphaned fawns and said she was saving and releasing deer only to see deer shot by the City’s sharpshooters less than a mile away. She called the killing “cruel and morally wrong.”
“I am confused why you chose to kill the very animals that I am working tirelessly to save instead of engaging me in a solution,” Connell-Marsh said. “In closing, I would like to say that killing these deer because they are a nuisance to some residents is unacceptable to me.”
But those who are tired of herds of deer in their yards causing significant property damage and potentially carrying diseases say the situation as it currently exists is unacceptable to them. They hope a bigger cull will make a bigger difference than last year.
Alice Dreger contributed reporting.