Tuesday, April 7, 2020

City Council voted 3-2 in favor of deer management program

February 17, 2020
<p>Newly elected city council members including Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens (left), Lisa Babcock and Jessy Gregg during the East Lansing City Council meeting at the East Lansing City Offices on Nov. 12, 2019.</p>

Newly elected city council members including Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens (left), Lisa Babcock and Jessy Gregg during the East Lansing City Council meeting at the East Lansing City Offices on Nov. 12, 2019.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Tensions were high at the Feb. 11 East Lansing City Council Meeting when the council voted 3-2 in favor of a deer management program. In all likelihood, this means the United Starts Department of Agriculture will perform a cull, which is when professional sharpshooters come into designated areas in the city to kill deer.

Deer destroying gardens, presenting a road hazard and leaving feces in yards have been long been an issue in East Lansing. Council member Mark Meadows said he's been hearing about the problem for years and that it was time to act.

Meadows recalls campaigning for election to council in 2015 and not hearing about deer. The next year was a different story.

"The following year I was back out (talking to residents about) the school bond," Meadows said. "Going door to door, people started to talk about the deer, even though we were talking about the school bond."

Over a dozen members of the public spoke at the meeting, with strong support both for and against a cull. Those against said a cull was inhumane, that they like seeing the deer and that there are other non-lethal methods, such as sterilization that the city could use.

"I just can't be the mayor who agrees to kill the deer," Mayor Ruth Beier said, later adding that she didn't think a cull would be effective.

Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens voted against the measure because the earliest a deer cull could take place is next winter. He brought up revisiting the idea of adding a question to the Aug. 4 primary election ballot.

The city will budget $20,000 per year for a deer management program, though the actual cost would depend on the number of nights and locations the cull takes place, East Lansing Environmental Services Administrator Catherine DeShambo said.

Meadows said he thought it was important for the language in the resolution to be "deer management" instead of "deer cull" in case a more effective non-lethal approach emerged.

"It's just like 20 years ago you weren't holding a cell phone, you were holding a big battery pack with a phone on it," Meadows said.

The deer meat will be tested for disease by the Department of Natural Resources and if safe, given to food banks, DeShambo said.

The culls are done at night with police around the scene, ensuring civilian safety.

"We would take great, great care,” DeShambo said. “We would have everything covered in terms of the boundaries in any area that we were conducting any kind of activity.”

While the first installment of the cull is likely to happen next winter, residents shouldn't expect to see drastic results right away.

Chad Stewart, a specialist in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources deer, moose and elk program said these programs usually take time.

"It's more of a marathon versus a sprint," Stewart said. "You generally don't see or expect to see results or impacts of a cull after just one year or two years of doing it."

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