Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do some people feel that there is a problem of too many deer in Ann Arbor?
- Deer were not seen in most areas of Ann Arbor before five years ago or so. Now bucks and does are browsing in our yards and bedding down in many neighborhoods. Residents report seeing them in growing numbers.
- In the absence of predators and with the prohibition of hunting in the city limits, the deer population will continue to grow at a rapid rate, doubling in less than two years unless the food runs out. A baby female fawn grows to be a fertile doe in nine months or less and will produce 1-3 fawns of her own each season, for up to ten years.
- Deer raise our ire when they damage our caringly and expensively nurtured residential landscaping and gardens, but they also fundamentally damage the balance of nature in the woodlands and meadows of our parks and natural areas. Deer browse trees and shrubs from the ground to as high as they can reach, and consume the oak and other tree seedlings, killing future forests. They destroy wildflowers and other necessary elements of the habitat of songbirds and pollinators. Deer eliminate species that would normally play key roles in the natural ecosystem, and this makes way for invasive species. Deer exclosures, fenced areas that exclude deer, clearly show the native flowers and other plants that would survive were it not for deer browse.
- The presence of deer in our developed areas means we experience more deer-car collisions. These crashes or the accidents caused by swerving to avoid deer are bad news for people and the deer, and have significant economic costs as well as the pain and suffering (to both deer and people). They are occasionally even fatal to drivers or passengers.
- Deer are hosts to deer ticks in a stage of the ticks’ multi-stage life cycle. A dense deer population seems to be implicated in the spread of Lyme disease which is only one of a number of tick-borne illnesses. While health authorities do not see Lyme disease currently as a problem originating in Washtenaw County, thinning the deer population is a strategy supported by recent research for reducing Lyme’s prevalence when it reaches our area. Lyme disease is already found up and down the Lake Michigan shore of western Michigan and is a very serious and growing problem in states east and west of us.
2. Why do some people feel that there is no need to do anything about Ann Arbor’s deer population?
- Deer have a special appeal to many people. They are beautiful creatures and humans like to watch them. Some city residents still feel that the deer, even as they multiply, are welcome inhabitants of the local scene that add an element of nature and the wild.
- Some citizens have heard the proposition from opponents of urban deer management that there is really no effective way to reduce the deer population. If deer are removed from an area, the argument goes, more deer will simply move in from outside: the vacuum effect. Additionally, it is argued, if there are fewer deer, there will be more food, supporting greater survival rates, and the population will bounce back.
- People know that damage to a particular garden or tree or clump of hostas may be prevented with fencing or warded off by repellents or dogs or sensor-equipped sprinklers. Why not just protect our plantings or learn to plant things the deer don’t like to eat, and let the deer continue to multiply?
3. How would the advocates of “doing something” answer these objections of those who feel there’s no need for action?
- Those in favor of “doing something” ask: Should the deer, whose predators humans have eliminated, now be privileged over community gardens and trillium, bees and butterflies, songbirds and forests? Should the cuteness or wildness of deer put them off limits for harvesting as food? Is it reasonable to eat beef hamburger from a farm but to protest when local deer are used to supply venison to local food banks?
- The experience of communities and park systems that have taken action to reduce the deer population in previously protected zones seems to disprove the “vacuum” idea. It is possible to reduce the population of deer and prevent its unlimited growth, though this requires continuing efforts, not just one-season events.
- We can’t fence all of our parks and natural areas. Relatively low fences or netting can protect individual shrubs but high fences, taller than city ordinances will permit, are needed to keep deer out of gardens and wooded areas.
- Protecting shrubs or perennials in one yard only sends the deer to someone else’s yard. It doesn’t really solve the problem of deer overabundance.
4. What are the general approaches to reducing deer overabundance?
- To reduce and then stabilize a deer population, the methods available are:
- Lethal methods, meaning to kill some deer and harvest the meat.
- Non-lethal methods: fertility control of some sort or removal of the animals to another location.
5. What would be the reason to use non-lethal methods to reduce or stabilize the deer herd in a city?
- Non-lethal methods are seen by some as more humane than lethal ones. Why end the life of a deer if there are other ways of limiting the population? Many believe that killing should not be the first option selected, even if non-lethal methods are more expensive.
- Some believe that deer, as wild animals, should not be killed and eaten. Some people are against killing animals and eating meat in general. Some people and groups oppose any kind of hunting or hunting-like activity as a form of animal cruelty
- Some oppose managed culls, where animals are baited and harvested by hunters or sharpshooters, as unsporting.
6. Can non-lethal methods solve our deer overabundance problem?
- There are immuno-contraceptives such as PZP and GonaCon under development and testing which could potentially stabilize and ultimately reduce the deer population. They would be used on the does. These substances, which are vaccines, induce the immune system to modify the animal’s reproductive functioning. Unfortunately for those looking for non-lethal alternatives, these contraceptive vaccines are not permitted for use in Michigan on a free-roaming population of deer such as we have in Ann Arbor.
- Trapping and removing deer to another location, a non-lethal solution that appeals to many in its simplicity, is not permitted under state law.
- Surgical sterilization, either via tubal ligation or ovariectomy, is also not permitted in Michigan.
- Even if and when these methods are permitted, these methods have some disadvantages:
- If successful they stabilize but do not rapidly reduce the population.
- They are usually more expensive, often significantly so, than lethal options.
- Immuno-contraceptives as developed to date require cumbersome “booster” treatments and necessitate tagging the does to determine when they were vaccinated.
- The non-lethal procedures require trapping, darting, or other procedures that are harder to accomplish than shooting the deer with a gun or a bow.
- The non-lethal methods are often stressful to the animal. Trapping and relocation, for example, results in many, even most, of the animals dying within a year.
- The vaccines, tranquilizers, and other drugs may utilize chemicals which make the venison unsuitable for human consumption.
- Tubal ligation and PZP interfere with fertility, but don’t prevent the does coming into heat. In one experiment, run by Cornell University, Bucks, drawn to mate with the never-pregnant does, were attracted into the area, preventing a population reduction.
- Some of the non-lethal techniques may simply not yet be as effective yet as needed. GonaCon, for example, has only a 50% effectiveness rate in preventing births.
7. What would be the lethal methods that could be used for deer management and why would they be?
- Lethal methods include use of firearms (rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders) and archery (various kinds of bows including crossbows.
- Recreational hunting via firearms and bows and arrows controls the deer population in many areas of Michigan and other states. Hunters have replaced wolves and other predators that humans have eliminated. In Michigan, 350,000 or more deer are harvested by hunters each year. Largely for safety reasons, sport hunting has been banned from Ann Arbor and limited in the surrounding townships. In protected areas like the City of Ann Arbor, where recreational hunting is not allowed, specially approved culls using firearms or bows and arrows would likely concentrate on parks and other non-residential areas or be staged in areas where the state’s required 450 foot safety zone around residences could be respected.
- Those conducting culls in a city or park can be paid and trained sharpshooters or voluntary hunters who are vetted to insure safety and humane kills. Using voluntary hunters should keep the cost to the City down.
8. Could lethal methods be used safely in public lands and city neighborhoods?
- Yes. Culls are typically conducted away from homes and in areas closed to passers-by and vehicles. Archers shooting downward from tree stands are often preferred. Rifles used by sharpshooters can have silencers, allowing them to be less intrusive. Managed hunts and culls have proved to not pose a safety threat. The likely areas for deer culling would not be residential neighborhoods with small lots, but would be our natural areas – parks, golf courses, botanical gardens, arboretums and nature preserves, and, with permission of the owners, larger private properties.
9. Are there examples of using lethal methods in areas normally off-limits to hunting?
- Yes, there are many examples around the country. In our area, the city of Jackson uses paid sharpshooters in parks. Huron-Clinton Metroparks use off-duty policemen as paid sharpshooters. Oakland County parks use volunteer hunters using shotguns, muzzleloaders, and bows and arrows. Barton Hills uses paid sharpshooters supplied by USDA Wildlife Services. Meridian Township uses volunteer bowhunters. Venison is donated to local charities in all of these cases. Many other examples can be found on wc4eb.org.
10. Do deer cause Lyme Disease?
- “Deer supply the tick that transmits the bacterium with a place to mate and provides a blood meal for the female tick prior to production of eggs. Research shows that reducing the deer population in an affected area to a level of 8 – 12 deer per square mile virtually eliminates ticks and Lyme Disease in humans.”
See also: Kilpatrick H, Labonte A, Stafford K. The Relationship Between Deer Density, Tick Abundance, and Human Cases of Lyme Disease in a Residential Community. Journal of Medical Entomology. 2014. pages 777-784.
- Lyme Disease is now documented along the west coast of Michigan and the western Upper Peninsula. It is moving eastward. If not already here, experts estimate that it will be here very soon.
TickCheck tells another story— estimating 360 cases this year in Washtenaw County.