In Letters to City Council, Some Pinecrest Residents Ask Deer Cull Be Halted In Henry Fine Park

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

The City of East Lansing is posting signs about park and trail closures to keep people out of the areas where sharpshooters are killing deer.

As East Lansing’s first-ever deer cull commenced at the beginning of this week, several residents of the Pinecrest Neighborhood have requested from City Council that the cull be halted immediately in Henry Fine Park and that a new public hearing be held. 

Although Council member Dana Watson objected at this Tuesday’s Council meeting to the City having deer killed, there are no plans to halt the cull. But City Staff will put more information out to more clearly answer questions and address concerns of residents.

Pinecrest Neighborhood Association Board President Abbie Tykocki emailed City Council, City Manager George Lahanas, Director of Public Works Scott House, and Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo on Jan. 12, requesting that the cull be halted. That email followed a series of emailed questions and responses between Tykocki and DeShambo starting on Jan. 5. Tykocki referenced some apparently unsatisfactory answers in her most recent letter to Council. 

“Will you please explain to me whether a ‘firearm’ constitutes a gun, a crossbow, both, or something different?” she wrote.

“If the deer are dead when they are removed,” she continued, “I would like to understand exactly how that is ‘not hunting’? A highly-trained biologist armed with a gun or crossbow that is removing deceased deer from the park is still a hunter. Hunting, culling, managing, removing, killing are all just words that mean exactly the same thing. And they do not change that fact that residents in my neighborhood are scared out of their minds knowing that weapons are being discharged less than 450 [feet] from their homes on any given night (and they won’t even know exactly when without having to walk over to the park to check).”

Two other residents of the Pinecrest Neighborhood also emailed Council in opposition to the cull. 

Roger Darden wrote asking the cull to be halted in city parks, saying that it is illegal to discharge a firearm within city limits “for good reasons.”

“Among them is the fact that bullets can kill up to a mile away,” Darden wrote, “can penetrate the walls of houses, and ricochet dangerously and unpredictably. I know this as a combat veteran from the Vietnam war (1967-68). Hunting in high density population areas is simply too risky.”

He also wrote that he believed the issues with deer are a “contrived problem.”

Lynn Richardson, a self-described “long-time hunter,” also wrote to Council, asking only for the cull to be suspended in Henry Fine Park. 

Richardson wrote, “I understand that the City intends to close parks designated for that night’s hunt between 6 pm and 7 am, posting a notice of closure and barricading park entrances and pedestrian paths. That does nothing to insure my safety because I share a property line with Henry Fine Park, specifically along a wood lot in the park. I am not alone in this. There are at least 17 homes on Blanchette and Bramble that border the woodlot in this park. I and my dogs are often outdoors late at night, even during the winter. In essence, you are depriving me of the quiet enjoyment of my property and endangering my safety, and that of my dogs, if I venture out during these random periods of closure. In legal terms, you are knowingly and willingly conducting a public nuisance. There is a risk that I or my dogs may be shot, or that shots may be fired at or through my home.”

Richardson explained the ballistic issues of firing rifles or handguns in close proximity without proper “shooting” lanes and also raised two other concerns.

“People make mistakes, and hunters accidentally shoot cows, horses, and even other hunters every year,” Richardson wrote. 

Richardson continued, saying: “Lastly, there is the noise factor. My dogs are not trained to the gun. They are afraid of loud noises and fireworks. Mine are not alone in that, and many of the neighbors also have dogs. And I do not expect to, or care to, be awakened by gunshots.”

(You can read all the letters in the communications packet from Tuesday’s meeting. Richardson’s letter begins on page 6, Darden’s is on page 22, and Tykocki’s exchange with DeShambo runs from page 23 through page 28.) 

When Council member Dana Watson raised the issue before Council on Tuesday evening, she noted that when Council originally voted to approve the cull, 3-2, in early 2020, she had opposed it then. She still opposes killing deer. 

But, Watson explained, she is torn on whether it’s a good idea to attempt to reverse it now. She alluded to the fact that she and Ron Bacon were appointed to Council, not elected, and that she might be interested in running for re-election.

“This is new for our City,” Watson said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s something people know a lot about, but for our City, a lot of people don’t. So, I wanted to ask if we could float around an FAQ – whether it’s on our site, on a Facebook post, addressing those common questions that people are asking,” Watson said.

Lahanas responded that the decision to conduct a cull was carefully considered and came after eight years of public discussions and other information-gathering. He said his staff will work to get information out to people about the ongoing cull. 

He also argued that the deer do present real problems and letting them be is “not consequence-free.” 

“We have about 45 or more car-deer accidents per year. People we know of just recently had car deer accidents, unfortunately,” Lahanas said. “We also have our officers needing to put down deer that are injured after car-deer accidents.”

Mayor Aaron Stephens, who voted against the cull when it passed, raised the possibility of bringing back the idea of a ballot initiative to let the voters decide, directly, about whether to allow a cull. 

Bacon opined that such a measure would likely pass with ease. To that, Watson said that a majority of voters approving killing deer doesn’t make it the right decision. 

Bacon brought the discussion to a close by saying that residents are rightly concerned and want clear, transparent information about the use of firearms to kill deer near their homes.

“I’m more interested in the neighborhoods or places that are impacted, based on some of the concerns in the emails,” Bacon said. “Just making sure we’re fully transparent and just explaining the process. There’s a lot of, either misinformation or lack of communication, on what the process is going to look like. And that kind of thing which creates its own level of fear. We all know this.” 

“Just make it a clear explanation,” he continued. “It is what it is. It’s ugly. I think there’s been a little bit of an attempt to make it more sanitary or however you want to put it. It just is what it is. I think people will feel better with a good, fair assessment of what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, why, and that they’re going to be safe with whatever mechanisms are going to be used. They know the limitations of their mechanisms, so they feel safe in their homes. That’s only fair.”

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