Deer and the Community Conversation

The sign-off slide from the city presentation

The sign-off slide from the city presentation

The City of Ann Arbor Deer Management Project continued with a second public meeting on February 5, 2015.   The slide presentation from the City’s consultant and a video of the meeting are now available on the City’s webpage.

The agenda consisted of four parts:

  • An introduction by Sumedh Bahl, Community Services Administrator, and Charlie Fleetham, the City’s consultant.  The survey was briefly summarized as to a few high points, though no real analysis or comprehensive summary was offered.
  • Important announcements: that there would be an aerial assessment of the deer population; and that the date of the report would be moved up to late March.  Also, that the staff and consultant would not make any recommendations, but would offer alternatives.
  • A scripted interview with Lance DeVoe, the Rochester Hills staffer who is in charge of their “non-lethal” deer management program.
  • A presentation by Christopher Graham, an Ann Arbor landscape architect who has long experience with the damage deer do to landscapes and natural areas.  He has long been a figure in Ann Arbor policy circles, and is a member of the City’s Environmental Commission.
  • A very long public comment session (half the line was still there when I left at 9:15).

Evidently the Humane Society Huron Valley Chapter was invited to speak on the idea of using contraception to inhibit the spread of deer, an idea vigorously promoted by the Humane Society US , but declined.

Rochester Hills, Michigan, has the highest deer-vehicle crash count in the SEMCOG area, but has chosen to use what is described as a “non-lethal” approach.  This mostly consists of a combination of driver education and signage, vegetation trimming and other means of reducing crashes, together with education about landscape alternatives.

Chris Graham spoke as a representative of the Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance.  He spoke movingly of the loss of gardens, local food production, and damage to the very web of life in our natural areas. The WC4EB presentation slides and text of the speech are included here as pdf files, but may also be viewed on the website.  Members of the WC4EB also distributed an informative flyer.

It was apparent that the Humane Society and associated groups like the Citizens for Safe Deer Management, who have now gotten themselves recognized as a “stakeholder”, had recruited sympathizers from all over SE Michigan to come and support the “nonlethal” viewpoint.  During the long public comment period, people from as far as St. Clair Shores spoke about the moral imperative to preserve the lives of deer.  A common theme was that Ann Arbor gardeners could avoid problems by choosing to plant the right plants.  One lady, who caused something of an audience twitter by identifying herself as from “Sky-o Township”, instructed us to use Irish Spring Soap, so very 2006.  (Some gardeners tell me that the deer eat Irish Spring Soap!)

Rochester Hills

The city of Rochester Hills in Oakland County has consistently had the highest number of deer-vehicle crashes in SE Michigan.  According to SEMCOG, it was the top community in DVC for 2011-2013, with 430 DVC in those three years.  (Scio Township is the second highest, with 355 DVC.)  Attempts to solve this problem have resolved as their “nonlethal” approach.

The interview with Lance DeVoe was informative.  DeVoe is a wildlife biologist who was first employed by Rochester Hills as an environmental educator, but he now spends 50% of his time on the deer management program.  He said that RH began counting deer by means of flyovers in 1999.  Many of the deer are found in the parkland on large tracts of land bordering the Clinton River.  But there began to be problems in neighborhoods.  In response, a sharpshooting program was launched, but was stopped about a month later because of protests.  They now have the “nonlethal” approach.

  • The city passed a feeding ban ordinance.
  • Education on fencing, plants rarely damaged by deer, and deer repellents
  • Attempt to minimize deer vehicle crashes by signage and vegetation management, together with driver education.
  • A Deer Management Advisory Committee oversees the program.
  • There is continued monitoring of the size of the deer herd.
  • The deer are experiencing lethal effects, if only from automobiles.  The policy requires property owners to be responsible for removing dead deer on their own property.

The deer herd has varied in the monitored areas and DeVoe stated that it was staying “about the same” though the figures do not support that.  The handout showed 217 total deer in 2011 (last year shown) and he showed an updated graph in which 300 deer were observed in 2014, which he termed “an anomaly”.  Since most does produce two fawns, deer generally double in population in about two years and one would expect an increase in a population with no lethal events.  But in 2008, deer in Oakland County were hit with Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) , which is transmitted by midges and most observed in warmer than usual years.  DeVoe stated that the environment along the river was favorable for the midges and a considerable number of dead deer had to be removed.  The figures from the Rochester Hills flyovers show that the number of deer in the assessment areas were reduced in 2009 (80) to less than half what they had been in 2008 (184) (presumably the survey was done in the early part of each year).  So it appears that the deer in Rochester Hills are increasing in population, from a low in 2009 to higher than expected in 2014.

Another revealing point made by DeVoe is the effect on Rochester Hills’ natural areas.  In 2005, the residents passed a millage to acquire and maintain a system called Green Space (it has its own Advisory Board).  Their biologist now concedes that oak seedlings are gone, there are only a few remnant areas of Trillium, and the understory is essentially gone.  He said that most of what remains is Japanese barberry.

Japanese barberry

Japanese barberry

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a known problem invasive in Northern forests.  The Michigan Natural Features Inventory has a discussion and control recommendations for this pest.  The irony is that it is often planted as a “deer resistant” landscape plant.  But the thorns that make it deer resistant also make it very unfriendly to wander through in search of the beauty of nature.

Just to add injury to insult, apparently this shrub provides the ideal conditions for the deer tick that carries Lyme disease.  It shelters both the mice that carry the disease and the adult ticks.

In conclusion, it is difficult to see that the Rochester Hills story makes this model attractive for Ann Arbor to emulate.

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

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2 Comments on “Deer and the Community Conversation”

  1. One of the other things that Lance DeVoe also mentioned as a deterrent to higher deer numbers is coyotes. Apparently they have a high numbers of coyote in Rochester Hills that kill the fawns.

    My math might be faulty, but if there are 220+ deer in Rochester Hills (and the population is reported to be at consistent levels over the last few years), and each female has two plus fawns each year, even subtracting those deer killed in car-deer accidents– that means that coyote are killing (humanely?) about 150+ fawns each year.

    What else are they killing when the fawns are no longer small?

    • varmentrout Says:

      Thanks, Hillary. The DVC and aerial counts both give us only partial information on the deer population. Presumably the DVC is proportional to the population, though Rochester Hills has been trying to minimize crashes. But the aerial counts are only over a few selected areas. The map provided by the report from their committee shows little green patches where aerial counts were made. The numbers published on that handout are much more variable than the verbally reported “average of 200” (there was a major drop after EHD).

      DeVoe said that last year they counted 303 deer but called it an anomaly because of the harsh winter. The logic escaped me.

      I am personally pro-coyote, at least in limited numbers. They also eat rabbits, young skunks, groundhogs and rodents One of our few predators remaining and part of the web of life.

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