Oh, Deer – Will Ann Arbor Find a Solution?

The air seems to have gone out of Ann Arbor’s effort to find a solution to the deer problem.  This was evident at the December 10 public meeting. A video of the meeting is published on the city’s Deer Management Project webpage.  The slide presentation is also provided there.

Some History

A young buck pauses in an Ann Arbor back yard.

A young buck pauses in an Ann Arbor back yard.

Deer have been invading back yards (at least, mine) in Ann Arbor for about 10 years.  They have also been making their mark on automobiles in the area.  A vocal response to this situation is relatively recent. A group called Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance formed early in 2014 (their website is rich in data and reports, and more is added almost daily) to express concern about the loss of natural diversity caused by the overpopulation of deer in Washtenaw County’s natural areas.  This account of their presentation to the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission lays out a number of the issues.  The WC4EB includes people from groups such as the Wild Ones who appreciate native plant communities and the other wildlife (birds, small mammals, butterflies) that they support.  They called upon the County to take action to protect the natural areas that have received strong support from County taxpayers.

Meanwhile, in certain neighborhoods of Ann Arbor, notably those of the Second Ward, deer have been causing expensive damage to landscapes.  CM Jane Lumm has been the lead on this issue and reported a large volume of correspondence from constituents about the problem. On May 5, 2014, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution on the deer problem that directed the City Administrator to look into the issue and provide a report.  Discussion at Council that night is reported here.  Accordingly, a report was issued by Sumedh Bahl on behalf on the Administrator, dated August 14, 2014.  On August 18, 2014, Council passed another resolution that authorized the hiring of a consultant to “develop a community endorsed deer management plan”  The resolution noted that “Development of a community-endorsed deer management plan will require substantial work, including public engagement and information collection.”  The city issued an “RFP for Consultation Services for Development of Deer Management Plan”.  Evidently the only bidder was the favorite consultant of city staff, Charlie Fleetham of Project Innovations.  Here is the proposal he submitted.  (A great deal of this is his usual proposal boilerplate; the actual proposal begins on page 12.)  A link to a survey was provided on the page about the project.

Solving a Problem

The approach that local government officials usually take to come up with a “plan” to solve a particular problem is familiar and fairly straightforward.  (Spoiler: it isn’t being done in this case.)

1. Frame the question.

This would customarily be done either by the leadership of a task force, board or commission, or by staff.  To some extent, this was done in the August report to Council, but not very concisely or usefully.  It might instead have been done like this:

Concern has been expressed about the increased population of deer in Ann Arbor and the effects, which may include vehicle accidents involving deer, damage to landscape plantings, and damage to vegetation in natural areas.  The City needs to determine the extent of problems. Possible solutions, their costs, and their public acceptance need to be examined.

2. Present a data overview.

Aerial counts are best done in the winter, when contrast is best and there are fewer leaves. Photo by Shawn Severance of Washtenaw County Parks Dept.

Staff or specially qualified consultants  would then assemble information for a background document.  In this case, useful information would include quantifiable data on local deer populations (from surveys) as available, a brief overview of deer biology and behavior, and data on vehicle accidents (from reports), damage to landscapes (this would be anecdotal but an effort could be made to collect information from complaints) and information about damage to native plants in public parks and natural areas (from surveys and data kept by the maintainers of those areas).  Where information is needed but not available, that should also be noted. The data overview could also include some generalizations based on data from elsewhere, where similar situations occur.  Regulatory information (laws and regulations, mostly from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources) should also be included.

It is clear that such information was anticipated in the original (May 2014) Council resolution.

From Council resolution of 5/5/14

From Council resolution of 5/5/14

To some extent, this was accomplished with the August report to the Council.  However, in many instances the data were not available or were simply elided.  (There is no information about vegetation damage, either in landscapes or in natural areas.)

3. List alternatives

Next is a list of the available options for addressing the problem, with limitations (legal, practical, or cost) noted.  Experience from other communities in similar situations should be summarized.

The August report did list some approaches taken by other communities, and offered a brief evaluation of methods.  However, there was little in-depth detail, data on effectiveness, or documentation.  It would be expected that such information would be part of a final plan.  Apparently the staff anticipated that this work would be done by the consultant.  From the RFP job description:

“Assist in drafting a community endorsed deer-management plan which includes specific objectives of the plan, delineation of deer management area, selected method(s), public communication and other necessary elements.”

4. Ask for public response

For most plan exercises, “public engagement” means presenting a draft plan to the public, with alternative solutions or with recommendations.  However, this is where the Ann Arbor deer management project has veered to a different target.  It appears that the objective has now become to manipulate or manage the public to a particular conclusion.  Meanwhile, analysis and data collection seem to have fallen off the back of the truck, as have any attempt to picture possible approaches.

NOTE:  Posts on Ann Arbor’s deer problem and some other information are now listed on our page, What Do We Do About the Deer?



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4 Comments on “Oh, Deer – Will Ann Arbor Find a Solution?”

  1. Merlez Says:

    Killing is never an answer!

    • varmentrout Says:

      I am going to let your comment stand, since it represents a strong view held by one sector of the community. However,

      1. This post was not about killing, but about process. Your comment does not add to the discussion.

      2. In general, I do not favor anonymous comments. If you wish to comment further, please use your name.

  2. Barbara Reynolds Says:

    Ms. Armentrout,
    Are you a member of WC4EB? Or just an admirer? It sounds like you belong from your comments, but you don’t include this specific information.

    • varmentrout Says:

      I have been concerned about the deer overpopulation in the City of Ann Arbor for many years. I have personal experience in my own garden since 1998 with the intrusion of deer on a city parcel. I’m also a botanist and a long-term supporter of natural areas (and their plant communities). When I heard that WC4EB had formed, I hastened to get on their email list. It is not a formal organization and I am not a “member”, do not speak for them, and have not been involved in preparing their documents or presentations. But I appreciate their advocacy and their research and information sharing. So I guess you could call me an admirer. However, my opinions are my own.

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