FILE - Deer in the road

Ann Arbor plans to cull up to 150 deer in private parks and some public land starting Thursday and continuing through Jan. 26.

The majority of the 12 parks and select University of Michigan and Concordia University properties impacted are closed every day from 3 p.m. until midnight through Jan. 26 for White Buffalo, a Connecticut-based sharpshooting company, to hunt deer.

In its fifth year, the program aims to lethally remove deer from parks and natural areas within Wards 1 and 2 through White Buffalo, which is operating under a five-year special research permit issued from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

That permit requires deer venison to be donated to a local food bank.

The Ann Arbor City Council voted 9-2 in November to approve the resolution that capped at $75,000 the maximum cost for fiscal 2020.

Ann Arbor Communications Director Lisa Wondrash told The Center Square the program aims to protect local natural wildlife and reduce the number of vehicle-deer collisions.

The city has tracked deer impact on local wildlife since 2015. Local plant ecologist and consultant Jacqueline Courteau published an August 2019 study of deer impacts on Ann Arbor’s trees and wildlife from 2018 and 2019.

Although deer damage on experimental red oak seedlings has declined, the study linked deer “to significant reductions in blooming of trillium and experiment wildflowers at most sites.”

“In sum, although deer management in 2016–2018 has stabilized or somewhat reduced deer populations in targeted sites, deer continue to damage plants at levels that can inhibit forest regeneration, lead to declines in trillium populations, and reduce forest wildflowers that provide important resources for pollinators and wildlife,” the study summary states.

Ann Arbor has sterilized 78 deer over the past five years but discontinued the program since the DNR permit capped the number of sterilized deer at 80.

“Without an increase in allowed sterilizations, it is not cost effective to mobilize operations for two deer,” Howard Lazarus, Ann Arbor city administrator, wrote in an Oct. 8, 2019 memo.

Jeff Hayner, a Democratic City Council member from Ward 1 who voted against the resolution, told The Center Square that the city has spent more than $750,000 on deer management so far and projected costs exceeding $1 million by the end of 2020.

Many people in Ann Arbor are morally opposed to killing deer and allowing guns in the park, Hayner said, but are still paying for the program that restricts their park access.

Hayner said more than 150 acres on the northside of Ann Arbor have been cleared for housing, a mix of woodland and farmland that depleted deer’s natural habitat.

“Not only are we getting rid of their natural habitat, but we’re creating a more inviting habitat,” Hayner said, adding that deer prefer natural, easier terrain such as streams that run between subdivisions.

Hayner said Ann Arbor is footing the bill for culling deer from local townships and municipalities as well as those who want to keep deer out of their gardens. He said bucks often travel seven-mile loops per day, impregnating other deer.

“I’m not down with the idea that everyone is paying for a handful of people that have their non-native plant gardens kept deer-free,” Hayner said.

Deer culling hasn’t decreased the number of deer-involved crashes, Hayner said, pointing to MichiganTraffficCrashFacts.org’s fluctuating numbers per year: 1,062 in 2015, dropping to the low 960s in 2016 and 2017, and increasing back to 1,003 in 2018.

There have been no firearm-related injuries with the culling program, according to Ann Arbor’s FAQ page for the deer management program.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.