The current population size of white-tailed deer on the UM-Dearborn campus continues to be non-sustainable and threatens the research, university and public education, wildlife conservation and other interest of faculty, staff, students and visitors to the campus. The deer population also threatens the Jensen Landscape, a designated National Historic Landmark associated with the Henry Ford Estate. Based on the size of the campus’s 300-acre Environmental Study Area, the size of a sustainable deer herd population is between 5 to 10 deer, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). Five consecutive, yearly, aerial surveys have been conducted; the most recent survey identified 70 deer living in this area (a 13% increase over 2017 and a 30% increase from 2016, the year following the first deer cull in 2015). 34 deer were culled on campus in 2015. After consulting with the MDNR, continuing a regularly scheduled deer cull is the best solution in our situation.

In November 2017, a volunteer discovered a blacklegged tick (aka deer tick) on his body after retuning from working on the Environmental Study Area. The tick was sent to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services however it could not be tested for Lyme disease because it had died in route to the department. Blacklegged ticks are known vectors for a number of diseases, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Mammals, including white-tailed deer, are natural hosts for these ticks.

A portion of the Environmental Study Area is owned by Wayne County. The university has a legal agreement with Wayne County that calls for the university to preserve the natural area (both Study Area and adjacent county park land) and develop environmental interpretive programs.

THE PROPOSAL

The most recent aerial survey of the campus deer population indicated a herd size of 70 animals. MDNR recommends a herd of between 5-10 deer in such a space. UM-Dearborn proposes another deer cull to thin the local herd by 25-50 deer in February 2018. The university has opted for a deer population of 20-30 deer based on university scientists’ recommendations and campus and community desire to see deer in the area from time to time. The university’s proposed population is approximately 3 times higher than MDNR recommendations. The university will coordinate all necessary processes with a strong assurance of public safety.  The cull will take place on university property. The university has the authority to conduct the cull on university property and the UM-Dearborn Police Chief has the authority to waive firearm ordinances in extreme circumstances, like deer culls. The process requires securing a permit from the MDNR. The venison will be donated to area food banks.

DAMAGE AND THREATS

UM-Dearborn’s Environmental Study Area has experienced the following problems related to the over population of deer:

Damage to biodiversity of Environmental Study Area

  • Damage to native woodland ground flora
  • Damage to native tree regeneration
  • Spread of invasive plant species
  • Damage to ground-nesting bird habitat

Harm to bird-banding research of the Rouge River Bird Observatory

  • Destruction and damage to field and research equipment used in a long-term bird research project

Other damage and threats

  • Damage to a one-acre community garden
  • Possible health risk to the campus community and visitors due to elevated tick populations
  • Increase in car-deer collisions near campus

The university has a legal agreement with Wayne County that calls for the university to preserve the natural area (university and county property) and develop interpretative programs.

  • A deer management program is necessary to meet the obligations in the legal agreement
ALTERNATIVES EXPLORED

The university has explored many options to curtail the deer population including: installing vast, higher fences, contraception, tranquilizing and moving the deer to another location, culling by bow and culling by rifle.

  • Installing additional fencing is cost prohibitive
  • Contraception has demonstrated poor success with actually lowering the deer population according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Deer Management Plan (Report Number 3626). 
  • Tranquilizing and relocating deer is not permitted by the MDNR
  • The American Veterinary Medical Association has approved hunting as a humane form of euthanasia

Deer culls have been held in other urban areas including Ann Arbor, Rochester Hills and in Huron Metroparks in southeast Michigan.

THE PROCESS

UM-Dearborn proposes culling the deer herd to approximately 25-50 deer (3 times higher than the number of deer recommend by the MDNR) by using rifles with silencers. Shots are fired from elevated positions and all guns/bullets point down to the ground. The university will coordinate all necessary processes with a strong assurance of public safety.  

The process requires securing a permit from the Department of Natural Resources and securing the proper insurance. The MDNR recommends deer culls take place during the winter months. The ideal time for a deer cull is late February when the campus is on spring break. The venison will be donated to area food banks.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

The university conducted a cull in 2015, why is another deer cull necessary?

The university has stated that a regular cull program would be necessary to protect the Environmental Study Area and investment made during the first cull in 2015. Based on monitoring and accessing the effects of the deer population it has been determined the first cull had a great impact on the regeneration of the area.

Five consecutive aerial surveys of the ESA have been conducted.

  • 2014 count – 56 deer
  • 2015 count – 76 deer
  • 2015 cull total – 34 deer
  • 2016 count – 54 deer
  • 2017 count – 62 deer
  • 2018 count – 70 deer
Deer herd aerial survey estimates graph 2014-2018

The EIC has been conducting aerial surveys of deer population for the past five years. This year’s count is 70 deer, a 13% increase in the population over 2017 and a 30% increase in population since 2015, post cull.

The 70 deer count is 15 times higher than MDNR recommendations for a sustainable population in an area the size of the ESA.

The university is proposing culling 25-50 deer to bring the deer population down to 3 times higher than MDNR recommendations. 

What has changed since the first deer cull?

The university has not needed to invest in repairs to the Rouge River Bird Observatory, there has been a dramatic increase in native plant abundance and diversity within the Area including: native American Basswood American Elm, Bur Oak, Northern Red Oak and other tree seedlings. Numerous plants and wildflowers have also come back from near extinction and the campus’ Community Garden program has also been sustained since the first cull.

Why can’t the university invest in a sterilization program for the deer?

Deer sterilization programs have demonstrated poor success rates in reducing the deer population.

How many more times will a deer cull need to be repeated?

As mentioned the best way to control deer populations are natural predators and hunting. As the deer population rebounds, future culls are expected.  The Environment Interpretive Center staff continuously monitors the ESA and makes a recommendation regarding culls. It is expected culls will take place every other year to maintain a healthy deer population.

What actions have been taken by the university in the past to avoid a cull?

The UM-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center has been closely monitoring and accessing the effects of existing deer in the Environmental Study Area.

The university has installed three 25-foot by 25-foot wildlife enclosures (with 10-foot high chain-link fencing). Plant species composition and abundance have been monitored within the enclosures as well as a controlled non-fenced area since 2010.

Results indicate greater tree sapling establishment and greater ground-story floristic diversity in the areas excluded from grazing deer.

The university has installed a 10-foot high chain link fence around the Children’s Garden in 2012 to protect the plants.

Deer fencing along the interior portions of upland woods surrounding the banding lanes of the Rouge River Bird Observatory has been installed. 

Have any of these measured helped?

The 10 foot tall fence at the Children’s Garden has been successful at keeping the deer out.  Aside from that, the damage continued until the first cull in 2015.

What results have been realized since the last deer cull?

The ESA has shown a great evidence of rebounding. There has been a dramatic increase in native plant abundance and diversity. Population recover is underway for an assortment of native wildflowers, trees and shrubs in the area.

The prairie restoration planting at the former Rose Garden site is becoming well established with fewer deer in the area.

Damage to equipment in the Rouge River Bird Observatory has been greatly reduced.

Gardens in the University’s Community Garden have noted a noticeable decrease in damage.

What happens if the deer cull does not occur?

Having any kind of forest in southeast Michigan is hard to come by, let alone any that have the ecological integrity of a native forest and all of its components. Through the various forest types in our 300-acre study area, UM-Dearborn students gain an idea of what an original southeast Michigan forest looks like. It's a great way to pass along our natural heritage to future generations through education and research.

The Environmental Study Area offers each new generation of local citizens an opportunity to observe, enjoy, and study, first hand, the wonderful biological diversity of our region. It’s a place where nature is the focus, not the backdrop, of the many activities carried out within it. Each year, thousands of school children, public visitors, university students, and others gain a better understanding and appreciation of “real” nature and outdoor science by having access to this local natural treasure. Loss of native plant diversity through excessive herbivory by deer diminishes the extent and depth of that learning, in ways that can never be replaced once these plants are gone.

The continuing health, abundance, and diversity of wildlife in the Area also depends upon replacing and sustaining populations of native plants. We currently have a short window of opportunity to stop, and reverse, that habitat health decline by culling the deer herd.

Another important aspect of the Area is its connection to Henry Ford. A portion of it—the Jensen Landscape—is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Central to that landscape are the native trees and shrubs that were planted by Jensen as part of Mr. and Mrs. Ford’s landscape restoration efforts on their estate.  Maintaining and perpetuating good habitat health within the Jensen landscape, which also reflects and showcases Mr. Ford’s wildlife conservation values, would also benefit from reducing the over browsing pressures by deer.

The 300+ acre “island” of native plant habitat, and the rich local natural heritage it reflects, also showcases an aspect of the city of Dearborn and Wayne County that offers real distinction among the communities of southeast Michigan. It is the only actively managed urban natural area in our region with a special focus on environmental study and wildlife preservation. Maintaining its good health in our time is an important way to keep it preserved into the future.

What specifically is the harm to university research if the deer population is not addressed?

Loss of plant diversity in the Environmental Study, through over browsing by deer is quickly, and dramatically, narrowing the range of field research opportunities available to UM-Dearborn faculty and students. There are no other nearby locations where university faculty can access and utilize such an interesting and varied natural space for study.

For over 30 years, the Environmental Study Area has served numerous generations of UM-Dearborn students as an “outdoor classroom and living laboratory.” After having taken field classes, such as Field Biology, these students and alumni often remark on how special and profound it was to be afforded direct exposure to the study of living plant and animal life.  Many come back with their children to share with them the novel and unique encounters with diverse plant and animal life that this urban natural area still provides. Any unnecessary decline in that diversity would surely mar the quality of life in our community for future generations.

What are other risks to the campus community and visitors if the deer population is not culled?

There is a greater risk of car-deer collisions. In 2016 (the latest year for data) there were nearly 10 car-deer collisions in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. These numbers have been steadily rising since 2001.

Deer-involved traffic crash

With larger deer populations there is also an increased risk of elevated deer tick populations, which are known to cause Lyme disease in humans. The Environmental Study Area hosts tens of thousands of faculty, staff, students and visitors annually.

In November 2017, a volunteer discovered a blacklegged tick (aka deer tick) on his body after retuning from working on the Environmental Study Area. The tick was sent to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services however it could not be tested for Lyme disease because it had died in route to the department. Blacklegged ticks are known vectors for a number of diseases, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Mammals, including white-tailed deer, are natural hosts for these ticks.

Are there alternatives to a deer cull?

The most effective ways to control deer populations are natural predators and hunting.

The university has researched alternatives to a cull such as installing additional fencing, which is cost prohibitive, contraception/sterilization, which has demonstrated poor success with actually lowering the deer population and tranquilizing/relocating deer, which is not permitted in the state of Michigan.

Are there organizations that approve controlled deer culls?

The American Veterinary Medical Association has approved culling by rifle as a humane form of euthanasia.

Who will cull the deer?

The university will contract with a state-certified wildlife control company that is specializes in this type of work.

Can I participate in the cull?

The cull is organized and conducted by the company selected for the work.

When will the cull take place?

The cull is scheduled to take place the last week of February/first week of March. The campus is also on spring break during this time for spring break. Cull times usually take place between 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.

What procedures are in place so the public is safe during the cull?

The UM-Dearborn Police Department will coordinate all aspects relating to securing the cull area and ensuring campus safety. Coordination with the Dearborn Police Department and Wayne County Sheriffs Department are included in the safety plan. The cull takes place at night when deer are active and the risk to visitors in the Environmental Study Area is low. Safety is the number one priority.

What will happen to the deer harvested in the cull?

Venison harvested in the cull will be donated to local food banks. The 2015 deer cull resulted in 780 pounds of meat that was used to provide 647 meals for the hungry via Gleaners Community Food Bank. A similar amount of meat was donated to Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

How much does the cull cost and how is it being paid for?

The total cost of the cull is estimated at $20,000.

The university is not using tuition dollars for the cull. Funds will be used from rental fees collected by the university.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources suggests that 5 to 10 deer should be living in an area the size of the Environmental Study Area. Why is the university recommending a higher number of deer be in the area?

University scientists feel a higher number of deer can be sustained in the area. The university will be in a better position to determine the “right” number of deer for the area after monitoring the deer population after future culls. The university has also heard from the campus community - it likes to see deer on campus. By compromising on the deer population number, the Environmental Study Area will be allowed to regenerate and there is a higher likelihood that the campus community will continue wildlife viewing of deer on campus.

Similar compromises have happened at area Metro Parks.

Did the university receive permission from local government to conduct the cull?

The cull will take place on university property. The university has the authority to conduct the cull on university property and the UM-Dearborn Police Chief has the authority to waive firearm ordinances in extreme circumstances, like deer culls.

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