Statement on Ann Arbor’s deer management budget amendment

Here is the statement I plan to read at the Ann Arbor City Council meeting on October 16, 2017. Here is a link to the issue at hand. Constructive feedback and questions are welcome.

“I am a biologist from the University of Michigan. However, the following are my views and not those of the University.

I am here to support the amendment that will allocate deer management funds to this year’s budget. My understanding is that this amendment will not add any new cost – it’s just a shuffling of previously obligated funds.

I became involved in deer management as director of UM’s E.S. George Reserve, which is located in Livingston county. In 1930 six whitetail deer were introduced in the reserve. In six years that number increased to 160 deer. UM biologists learned about the exponential growth rates of whitetail deer. They also noted that deer overabundance destroyed the forest understory and stopped forest regeneration. In order to maintain ecological balance, UM has periodically culled its deer herd since the early 1940s.

Putting budgeted resources into the cull now, instead of later, makes sense. If we are able to reduce Ann Arbor’s urban deer population to a more sustainable level – by sustainable, I mean a deer abundance that permits natural forest regeneration – this will have an immediate positive impact on our natural areas.

The herd reduction will help to stave the spread of ticks that carry diseases such as Lyme Disease. Black-legged ticks and Lyme Disease have recently been documented in Washtenaw County.

Culling the herd can actually help the deer, by reducing the spread of deer diseases that may be exacerbated by overabundance. In the past five years, there has been an Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) outbreak in Rochester Hills, MI. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has decimated a deer population near Lansing.

Budget-wise, I would like to note that Ann Arbor is something of a model for how effectively deer management can be done. Staten Island, for example, has a deer herd similar in size to ours, but they are spending $3.3 million over a three-year period to reduce their herd. We are spending a fraction of that amount and, in my opinion, the combination of culling and sterilizing some females is much more effective.

I’d like to note that an effective cull in one year may preclude having to do a cull in some future years. At the George Reserve, we have not had to cull deer for several years. We have a lush forest understory with diverse herbaceous plants and native tree seedlings, unlike any of Ann Arbor’s parks at this time. We suspect that coyotes, which eat the fawns, are keeping the herd size down.

In summary, I can see no downside to this budget amendment.

Thank you for your attention and for being stewards of Ann Arbor’s natural areas.”

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