What Do We Do About the Deer?

Deer in an Ann Arbor back yard

Deer in an Ann Arbor back yard

Ann Arbor’s burgeoning deer population has become a problem that our community will be discussing and arguing over for quite a while.  This page has a record of our posts and some resources on the issue.


As of 2017, the City of Ann Arbor will institute a new Deer Management program.  Here is the page: Deer Management 2017

New Lyme Disease threat:  Washtenaw County has moved from being a county where Lyme Disease was not even listed as a possible problem to one where there are affirmed cases from the county.  The Michigan website on Emerging Diseases has a map showing that we are “condition red” and a discussion of the disease.

Local In Ann Arbor posts

Oh, Deer! Ann Arbor’s Herd Problem  December 3, 2014

Oh, Deer – Will Ann Arbor Find A Solution? December 15, 2014

 Oh, Deer – Managing the Public  December 17, 2014

Oh, Deer – The Survey January 31, 2015

Deer and the Community Conversation February 16, 2015

Deer and the Numbers Explosion February 24, 2015

Deer and the Vacuum Effect Fable March 8, 2015

Deer and the Web of Life March 26, 2015

Deer and the Flowers of the Earth May 31, 2015

Deer and the Population Problem August 4, 2015

Ann Arbor Deer: The Survey April 10, 2016

In the local media

Ann Arbor Chronicle:

County Expands Natural Area Preservation March 8, 2014

Ann Arbor Acts on Deer Problem May 5, 2014

Ann Arbor OKs $20K to create Deer Plan August 18, 2014

Ann Arbor News:

Summary list of articles

$145K for Deer Management Included in Ann Arbor’s New City Budget May 17, 2016

Ann Arbor Observer:

 Our Deer are Mostly Ann Arborites  February 2015

I Love the Deer April 2016

Bridge Magazine:

Why Ecologists Support Ann Arbor’s Deer Cull  January 14, 2016

Damn Arbor blog: Oh Deer December 10, 2014

Michigan Radio:

A Fight Over Deer as Ann Arbor Readies for First-Ever Cull December 31, 2015

Humane Society posts gory dead deer photos amid emotional debate over Ann Arbor deer cull February 2, 2016

The Michigan Daily

Two-year push for deer cull reveals city divide  March 18, 2016

The Ann:

Ann Arbor’s deer cull: “a divergence in values”  February 24, 2016


Articles in other media and venues addressing Ann Arbor’s deer issue


When Animal Rights Backfire  April 8, 2016 Richard Conniff

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan

The Pseudoscience of Non-lethal Deer Management  April 17, 2016 C. W. Dick


The Cull and the Lawsuit

Ann Arbor’s City Council authorized the use of a lethal cull of 100 deer in Winter 2016 in order to address the overpopulation of these animals.  The City’s Deer Management Page has details of park closures and the qualifications of the chosen contractor, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services.  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued a  permit that spells out very specific conditions.  The permit is valid from January 2 – March 1, 2016.

A group of citizens, led by Sabra Sanzotta, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the City of Ann Arbor and the Federal Government Department of Agriculture in an effort to stop the cull.  (The State of Michigan is also named in the lawsuit but has evidently not yet been served with the complaint.)

These were the reports of the action in Federal court.  The judge denied the petition for a temporary restraining order and suggested that plaintiffs submit an amended complaint.

Michigan Radio

Judge says Ann Arbor’s deer shoot can go ahead, for now

Detroit Free Press

 Judge: Sharpshooters can begin Ann Arbor deer kill

Ann Arbor News

Federal judge denies request to pause Ann Arbor’s deer cull

January 12, 2016 update: Lawsuit will be resubmitted in state court

Sabra Sanzotta announced on her GoFundMe page that the lawsuit will be withdrawn and resubmitted in state court.  The actual location of that court is not yet announced.  Presumably it will be the 22nd Circuit Court in Ann Arbor. Sanzotta announcement

The Michigan Daily published an interview with Barry Powers, the attorney who is representing Sanzotta and her fellow plaintiffs.  The article, published on January 13, 2016, confirms the intent to refile in state court.   It also contains a statement by the City Attorney, Stephen Postema:

“Allowing the cull to proceed does not damage, but actually furthers, the State policy permitting municipalities to exercise their valid police powers to manage and control wildlife nuisances,” Postema wrote. “The City adopted the Deer Management Plan to alleviate these nuisances as a matter of public health, safety, and welfare.”

Comments from the Assistant U.S. Attorney Therese Urbanic about the suit were also pointed:

“Mere repetition of constitutional labels … cannot suffice to show a strong likelihood of success on the merits.”

January 14, 2016

re-evaluatingThe status of the lawsuit is now uncertain. Sanzotta says on her GoFundMe page that “we are re-evaluating our legal position”.

January 28, 2016

The Ann Arbor News reports that a lawsuit has been filed in Circuit Court – by a different plaintiff.  The News also reported, without detail, that Sanzotta has filed an amended complaint in Federal court, as of January 20.

April 4, 2016

A new report in the Ann Arbor News states that the Federal lawsuit is still pending, and a new lawsuit has been filed by a different group with the state Court of Claims. The attorney in the Federal case (Barry Powers) continues to find constitutional issues which must surely be novel.  Points for the most extravagant and florid language likely heard in court for months.

July 19, 2016

The Federal lawsuit has now been dismissed. According to the Ann Arbor News, “Judge Arthur Tarnow of the U.S. District Court in Detroit granted motions by the city, state and federal governments to throw out the case.”  The article also notes that a prior lawsuit filed in Circuit Court was also dismissed.

Useful Resources:

Deer Management Project is the City of Ann Arbor web page where reports and announcements are available.

May, 2015: Here is the staff report Deer Management Recommendations which includes analysis of the survey and of possible methods to address deer overabundance in Ann Arbor without the lengthy appendices included in the version on the city page.

August, 2015: Here is the official City of Ann Arbor press release outlining the deer management program as passed by City Council 8-1 on August 17, 2015.

December, 2015: Here is the MDNR permit for Ann Arbor’s deer cull.  Culls require such special permits and are not considered “hunting”.  This permit outlines a number of requirements and restrictions.  Though the period in which some parks will be closed overnight to the public was originally thought to be January 1 – March 31, the permit is only for culling from January 2 – March 1, 2016.  In addition, City administration announced that the parks would remain open (and no culling will take place) over the weekends during that period, and Council acted to exclude certain parks from the cull.

January 13, 2016: Of the 24 parks designated for the cull, 10 have been removed from the list, leaving 14 in which culling operations will take place. The City of Ann Arbor announcement includes a map.  Those ten parks will now be open during normal hours and signage will be removed.


Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance is a continuously updated website that has both local news and many resources, including studies and what other communities have done to address deer overpopulation.

WC4EB produced this report, A  COMMUNITY-ENDORSED  DEER  MANAGEMENT  PLAN FOR  ANN  ARBOR,  MICHIGAN, which was included in the April 15 City of Ann Arbor report which is available on the City web page.  The link here is to the white paper prepared by WC4EB alone.


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has the responsibility to manage the state’s deer population.  The major policy driver is the wish to supply a good hunting environment (a good supply of desirable deer).  However, other factors are taken into consideration.  The state is divided into Deer Management Units (DMU) and fine-tuning is exercised in each of these.  The principal tool is issuance of hunting permits.  See this page for a map of all DMU in Michigan, with links to reports that explain special circumstances and reasoning.  “Antlerless” deer are does and first-year bucks.  Extra hunting permits are issued for antlerless deer where control of the deer population has become desirable.

Washtenaw County was DMU 81 for 2014.  The Deer Management/Status Overview for DMU 081 contains much information about the county from a deer management viewpoint.

The DNR has wildlife biologists who study and track deer population dynamics.  Kristin Bissell is the biologist who oversees DMU 81.  Here is an email K. Bissell December 2014 that she sent in response to a question about the use of contraception for deer population management after the December meeting. She mentions that no contraceptive agent has been licensed for use in Michigan.  Also, any such experiment would involve extensive monitoring and data collection.  Finally, it would not reduce the deer population.

In addition, if the goal involves reducing the deer population, simply applying contraceptives will not accomplish this. Contraceptives may only address fecundity rates of deer, and would have to be effective on a sufficient number of deer for a sufficient amount of time until sources of mortality reduced the population to the desired size.

Deer Management History in Michigan is a useful historical overview showing how deer populations have fluctuated with different management policies, often with conflicting aims (good hunting vs. environmental protection and herd health).


Lyme Disease is caused by a bacterium carried by deer ticks.  It has serious chronic health consequences if not caught early.  We reviewed this in a recent post.  This Deer, ticks and Lyme disease fact sheet has a comprehensive overview of the relationship between Lyme disease and deer density.


One Comment on “What Do We Do About the Deer?”

  1. […] The wealth of evidence compiled by botanist Vivienne Armentrout […]

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