War on Nature: Ann Arbor Deer Cull

Please visit Stop the Shoot homepage for more information about the cull.

‘Stop the shoot!’ crowd tells Ann Arbor council about deer cull

from: MLive (Ryan Stanton- include photo cred)-1bdb214db4076f76

With the killing of deer in Ann Arbor parks set to begin, residents against the cull showed up to Monday night’s City Council meeting once again in protest.

The council had a relatively light agenda with no decisions about the deer cull or anything else controversial, but protesters still packed the county board room, where the council met due to renovations in city hall.

Not all were able to get a seat, as the crowd spilled out into the hallway.

“What do we want? Stop the shoot! When do we want it? Now!” the protesters chanted between speakers, wearing red and holding up anti-cull signs.

The meeting ended with council members standing behind their 10-1 decision from November to proceed with bringing sharpshooters into city parks to kill up to 100 deer this winter. The cull is scheduled to take place between now and March 1.

Roughly two dozen parks on the north and east sides of town are scheduled to close from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays during the cull.

City officials were unable to confirm whether the cull began as planned Monday night. The city is contracting with U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters.

Police Chief Jim Baird said he knows when the sharpshooters are going to be out, but he’s not going to share specific information for safety reasons.

Some city officials are concerned protesters will try to disrupt the cull if the public knows exactly when and where shooting is taking place.

Barry Powers, a Bloomfield Hills attorney representing Ann Arbor Residents for Public Safety in a lawsuit seeking to halt the cull, spoke out at Monday night’s meeting and served city officials with copies of the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges several laws will be violated if any shooting takes place in the city.

Powers paced around the board room, waving a copy of the lawsuit, as he addressed council. It became contentious as council members repeatedly urged him to return to the speakers podium, which he eventually did after initially trying to talk over the council members asking him to move to the microphone.

“Pardon me, I think my voice is loud enough to fill this room,” Powers yelled back at the council at one point.

Continuing to speak loudly, Powers expressed disapproval of the city’s leaders, suggesting they weren’t very responsive when he tried reaching out in advance of the cull starting. He called the cull a “blatant repudiation of state law” and he said no municipality is above the law.

“Does anybody care about the law in Ann Arbor, or are you a third-world nation unto yourselves?” he asked.

Powers received a round of applause from residents in the audience after giving his speech.

Council members later met behind closed doors with the city’s attorneys to discuss the lawsuit. The city maintains the cull, which is permitted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, is legal.

The council heard from several residents Monday night who argued the cull is ethically and morally wrong.

Robert McGee, founder of Ann Arbor Residents for Nonlethal Deer Management, criticized the city for asking the state to classify the cull as a non-hunting activity so a safety-zone requirement wouldn’t apply. The DNR responded last month by saying there does need to be a safety zone and no shooting can occur within 450 feet of occupied buildings without written consent from the owners or occupants.

“Seriously, the state had to step in and protect the safety of Ann Arbor residents,” McGee said, speaking before council.

McGee said citizens against the cull intend to hold the city and the sharpshooters accountable to the 450-foot rule.

In just a few days, he said, they’ve collected enough signatures from residents against shooting near their homes to prevent any culling in four parks and nature areas: Arbor Hills, Foxfire West, Foxfire South and Narrow Gauge Way.

Similarly, McGee said, culling will be “extremely limited” in five other parks and nature areas where residents are opposed to shooting near their homes: Traver Creek, Dhu Varren Woods, Oakwoods, Oakridge and Ruthven.

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“We have only just begun,” McGee said. “We have people canvassing every park on this list.”

Paula Uche, another resident who spoke, urged council to call off the cull, saying deer eat plants to live and shouldn’t be killed for it.

“I see some of you are rolling your eyes, but I hope you hear this,” Uche told council members.

Uche called Ann Arbor’s deer “refugees,” saying developers have bulldozed their habitats, and now they’re seen by some as an inconvenience.

“And instead of being concerned about their hunger and displacement, to quote Charles Dickens, we consider them a surplus population,” she said.

Uche said the city should be mindful of deer in its development planning and require developers to do environmental studies, figuring out where there are deer trails, and help deer navigate through subdivisions, and plant deer-friendly food.

“Other communities have done so, and we can emulate,” she said. “Please consider alternatives to the cull.”

Ellen Rowe, who lives on the city’s north side, also voiced opposition to bringing sharpshooters into parks to kill deer.

She said she enjoys trail running. And even though the parks are going to remain open most of the day during the cull, and on weekends, she said she can’t imagine going in them and finding blood splatter.

“I believe that I represent a great number of Ann Arbor residents who do not believe that wildlife is a disposable commodity,” she said. “Many residents are not just upset; they are shocked and horrified.”

Rowe said she has deer in her backyard occasionally. And while she’s not thrilled about having shrubs and plants eaten, she said, she considers it a logical outcome of having the good fortune to live in such a beautiful area.

“When necessary, I replace bushes or plants with deer-resistant species,” she said. “And even with deer present, I have managed to create an attractive area that I enjoy spending time in. I also had a deer-car crash several miles outside of town five years ago, and, because of it, now exercise more caution, paying attention to existing signage, driving slower, and keeping an eye out for bright eyes at night.”

Rowe said maps of car-deer crashes show clear patterns, and the city can reduce crashes with fencing, reflective strips along roadway edges, and possibly blinking signs during peak deer traffic times.

Manish Mehta, another resident who spoke Monday night, said it was sad that he had to come appeal to council to take a non-violent approach.

“You’re deliberately taking lives of sentient beings,” he said. “These are sensitive animals. They are intelligent … and here we are taking a firing squad approach to shooting away our small problems with nature just because we can’t control our behavior or change our driving patterns, etc.”

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, offered a response from the council table following Monday night’s public commentary.

Briere said she had a meeting on Monday with the city’s administration and learned new information about the cull.

She said the city has worked with Ann Arbor Public Schools to provide information on the cull. And in at least one elementary school location, she said, the school district has added bus routes to transport students safely so they don’t need to walk through a park that is adjacent to areas where culling could occur.

She said the city also sent notices about the cull in December to each occupied building that is adjacent to parks on the list of cull locations.

The city also is making new signs for each of the parks where culling could occur, including information in English, Chinese and Spanish.

If residents have concerns or questions about the cull, Briere said they should email deermanagement@a2gov.org.

She said the city won’t be issuing new maps showing which areas of which parks could be used for the cull taking into consideration the 450-foot rule.

“Each person involved in the cull will be using GPS, global positioning satellites, to monitor their location with regard to private property and proximity to occupied buildings,” she said. “At this time, the city is not soliciting permission from residents to fire weapons closer to occupied buildings than 450 feet, because at this time the city is not planning to fire weapons closer to occupied buildings than 450 feet.”

In the event the city does want to go that route, Briere said, all permissions will have to be given in writing.

Briere said the city has not yet conducted an updated aerial count of the deer population because it works better when there’s snow on the ground. The last count in March of last year found 168 deer in areas in and around the city.

“One of the problems that we are going to continue to face is that we don’t have a long history of metrics,” Briere said of the city’s data on the deer population. “We simply have the ability to look at what’s happened in other communities.”

The deer cull has been controversial since the idea was first proposed. In an online survey conducted by the city last year, nearly 57 percent of respondents expressed at least moderate support for some form of lethal cull, though 48 percent said they were specifically against bringing in sharpshooters in the winter.

The extent of the recently announced park closures has prompted more backlash, including from some people who said they previously supported a cull.

Council Member Julie Grand, D-3rd Ward, said she’s confident with Dave Borneman of the city’s Natural Area Preservation program on board with the cull.

“We’re very fortunate to have Dave Borneman leading this charge,” she said. “He has been with the city for approximately a quarter of a century, and he knows these natural areas so intimately, and I don’t believe he would agree to do this if he didn’t believe they were truly threatened. And that to me is really at the heart of what this is all about — it’s about protecting our natural areas.

“And when I see people being concerned about not being able to use them, because they value them so highly, I want the next generation to be able to use them as well.”

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