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Should hired guns thin local deer herds?

State officials want to reduce their numbers by nearly half in Metro Detroit


January 8, 2006

NORTHVILLE — A whitetail deer clomped past antique shops and posh clothiers on Main Street in this Victorian-style downtown before darting through the open door of a garden specialty shop.

Startling several customers in Gardenviews, it tried to jump through the front picture window only to bounce off, knocking over several metal stands of glass-blown ornaments. It then fled through another open door.

“We were eyeball to eyeball,” said sales associate Betsy Holda of the September incident. “It was interesting, to say the least.”

In southeast Michigan, deer have gone from rare stirring sightings to furry nuisances that invade residents’ gardens and, now, garden shops. They eat plants and crops, cause car wrecks, leave droppings and could lead to the spread of disease.

Which is why Michigan officials want to reduce their numbers by nearly half in Metro Detroit and nearly a third in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula.

They want to kill at least 266,000 of the 868,000 deer in south Michigan, and 54,000 of the 116,000 deer in Metro Detroit.

The Department of Natural Resources, which concedes that such drastic drops will be difficult to achieve, is holding meetings around the state to hear public response to its proposal. A session is planned for6 p.m. Jan. 19 at Summit Academy Schools in Romulus.

The plan promises to draw protests from animal-rights activists who have demonstrated in the past against the controlled shooting of deer by paid sharpshooters in Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

“Metroparks aren’t a place for guns, bows and arrows,” said Judy Brock, president of the Metroparks Deer Preservation Council. “People live around here.”

The DNR wants to encourage more hunting in Metro Detroit but hasn’t decided what type or how to do it. Some states have also tried to relocate or sterilize the deer with little success.

Rare in 1970, deer have become more plentiful in southern Michigan than the rest of the state combined, according to state figures.

In Metro Detroit, the animals mostly reside in the northern reaches but have spread to every city, including wooded pockets near downtowns. They’ve been spotted along Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills and along Interstate 94 at MetroAirport.

Some parts of OaklandCounty have 100 deer per square mile, according to state data.

Dean Martin, owner of Critter Control of North Oakland, began an orchard by planting 10 apple and peach trees at his home five years ago. The next morning, every leaf was gone.

Oh, deer!

“I put up an electric fence the next day,” he said.

Window of opportunity

The gleaming new subdivisions of Metro Detroit attract more than yuppies.

The leveled landscapes create the perfect habitat for deer: young trees with leaves that are easy to reach and grass and shrubs full of nutrients.

The development helps the animals a second way. The hunting that was allowed in the razed woods becomes outlawed in the new neighborhoods.

Add the fact that deer are highly fertile, capable of growing herds by 50 percent a year, and you have the makings of doe-eyed density, said Rod Clute, big game specialist with the DNR.

“If we harvest a third of the population, they can match that the following year,” he said.

“Then we’re right back where we started.”

As for the diminishing spaces where hunting is still allowed, local hunters sniff their noses at the sights. They prefer to go up north in a trek that is more traditional than about the probability of bagging a buck.

Only 13,000 of the 41,000 registered deer hunters in OaklandCounty hunt in the county, according to a DNR poll. Local hunters said it’s too difficult to secure the permission of local landholders to hunt on their property.

In Michigan, it’s illegal to shoot a gun within 150 yards of an inhabited building without the approval of the owner.

Deer move in

Marlene Alexander loves spying deer in northern Michigan but isn’t crazy about seeing them near her home in Livonia. The reason? A lot more are down here than up there.

The brazen pests, sometimes 13 strong, have eaten the azaleas and rhododendrons that surround her ranch-style home not to mention the vines that curl around the trees on her property.

“I go into the yard and yell at them,” the retired office manager said. “They just stand there and look at you like ‘Don’t bother me.'”

Other Metro Detroit residents make similar complaints. They tell stories of deer crashing through patio doors, deer that rummage through their garbage, deer that drop dead in their backyards.

State officials are concerned that the animal could spread bovine tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease. The ailments are now limited to north Michigan.

The state also is worried that the deer eat so much foliage that they threaten its regeneration.

Eating 10 to 12 pounds of food a day, there are few things the animal won’t eat, said Clute, the DNR specialist. Among their menu: pumpkins and melons, wild ginger and geraniums, corn and raspberries, bloodroot and trillium.

“The list of what they won’t eat you can fit into a thimble,” Clute said. “They eat anything and everything.”

The biggest, and sometimes deadly, problem caused by all the deer can be found in the dented hoods and broken headlights of cars in repair shops across southeast Michigan.

In 2004, 17 percent of car accidents in Michigan involved deer, according to the Michigan Deer Crash Coalition, a group of insurance and law enforcement officials.

The state had 62,707 deer-related accidents. They led to three deaths, 1,647 injuries and car damages of $125 million.

The coalition counsels drivers that it’s safer to hit the deer rather than swerve out of the way and possibly strike a utility pole or another car. Their campaign is titled: “Don’t veer for deer.”

In LivingstonCounty, one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, the number of deer-related wrecks nearly tripled during the 1980s and now hovers between 1,250 and 1,400 a year.

Efforts need to expand

Michigan officials, who reassess the deer population every five years, said past efforts to thin the herd haven’t gone far enough.

They’ve offered tax breaks to landowners to open their property to hunters and introduced a late firearms season to hunt deer without antlers. Such deer tend to be female, so their deaths help reduce the progeny.

But many hunters prefer the more macho chasing of the bucks — the more points, the better.

Earl Flegler, a wildlife habitat biologist with the DNR, said new measures to reduce deer could include more hunting seasons, longer seasons, split seasons that allow more opening days, more incentives to hunt antlerless deer and more marketing to encourage hunting.

“These options may include opening all harvest seasons (late firearm, muzzleloader, regular firearm, archery, youth and special disable firearm hunt),” Flegler wrote in a draft report.

Huron-Clinton Metroparks, which operates 13 parks in southeast Michigan, had such a problem with deer in 1999 that it hired sharpshooters to reduce the number.

In other states, Minnesota recently extended its hunting season by an additional week and introduced hunts at seven state parks targeting female deer. Pennsylvania boosted the number of deer killed by 25 percent after extending the season to hunt female deer by nine days in 2000.

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Thanks, interesting article. Urban deer are going to be a growing problem in this State. The issue has a few positives though, in that it may change the mindset of some non-hunters, who in the past viewed deer as magical Bambi like creatures. Now when they see the depradation that is caused by over-population they are more likely to see them as furry pests and may see deer hunting as a much more acceptable pursuit.

I wish writers who are going to write about the outdoors would fact check a little more. It's a relief to see that CWD is limited to Northern Michigan. :rolleyes:
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