Humane Society lobbying for fertility control instead of shooting deer in Ann Arbor

May 17, 2015 -- The Humane Society of Huron Valley is pushing back against a plan by Ann Arbor's city administration to kill deer in the city.

In response to the administration's recommendation to the City Council to hire sharpshooters to conduct annual culls, the HSHV has organized a meeting to discuss non-lethal fertility control methods.

Interested community members are invited to an information session featuring a presentation by Stephanie Boyles Griffin, senior director of wildlife response, innovations and services at the Humane Society of the United States, who will be joining via Skype.

The presentation will last from 7-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Humane Society of Huron Valley, 3100 Cherry Hill Road.

HSHV President Tanya Hilgendorf said her organization, which supports a non-lethal approach, is disappointed with the administration's recommendations.

"I very much believe the mayor and the City Council were trying to do the right thing and applaud them for efforts to fully examine the issue before making any decisions," she said. "But I am not sure they got what they asked for."

Hilgendorf expressed concerns that the city's deer management public process and study, led by a paid consultant and the city's administration, was biased toward a lethal method and failed to appropriately consider non-lethal methods.

"Unfortunately we had to ask that they remove our name as a partner because we felt the approach lacked objectivity and pointed all along to one outcome," she said.

A report given to the City Council by the city's administration references Cornell University research that found attempting to manage an urban deer herd using fertility control alone likely will not be successful in areas with free-ranging deer.

"Even with 90% or more of female deer sterilized, the best we could do was stabilize herd growth on core campus lands," the study states. "Some form of lethal deer management (e.g., hunting, sharp-shooting, capture and euthanization) will be needed to reduce deer numbers in an acceptable time frame (<5 years)."

The study continues, "Though we strongly advise against implementing sterilization or other fertility control programs without also integrating lethal control, where pursued, we recommend that >90%, and preferably 95% of female deer be targeted for sterilization surgery due to high survival and reproductive rates in suburban landscapes. If a community cannot afford these high costs (e.g., approximately $1,000/deer or more), then sterilization should not be implemented."

Based on Cornell's research, and the fact that deer sterilization can cost more than $1,000 per deer and is not currently approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resource, the city administration's ruled it out.

The city's report acknowledges some U.S. communities are experimenting with deer immunocontraceptives, but that's not approved in Michigan.

However, during a public meeting in December, Kristin Bissell, an MDNR biologist, indicated the MDNR was open to discussing the option with interested parties.

"In January, the project team invited the Humane Society of Huron Valley to develop a plan for reducing deer population through an immunocontraceptive process and to present it at the Feb 5, 2015, public meeting," the city's report states. "Due to local HSHV staffing constraints and lack of expertise, the invitation was declined. Local HSHV suggested contacting the National Humane Society to explore this idea."

The city's staff has concluded the deer issues in wards 1 and 2 in Ann Arbor are too large and significant for a costly, experimental and unapproved deer management program like birth control to be explored.

Hilgendorf said she believes the city's assessment of the deer issue in Ann Arbor has focused too heavily on public opinion. She acknowledges many residents are upset about deer damaging their landscapes and gardens, and there have been other concerns expressed about the threat of Lyme disease and car-deer collisions.

"However, data reveals there are no current local cases of deer-related Lyme disease and the percentage of deer-related versus overall traffic accidents has declined," she said. "Though the DNR stated aerial surveys are not an acceptable way to measure population density, Ann Arbor's recent aerial survey counted just 168 deer within and bordering Ann Arbor, including those on University of Michigan property -- about six deer per square mile -- significantly under the DNR's desired maximum of 20."

Hilgendorf said animal welfare organizations nationwide are becoming increasingly aware that killing healthy animals in an attempt to reduce overpopulation not only poses an ethical dilemma, but does not provide a long-term solution and must be repeated continuously. She argues sudden drops in population prompt a spike in birth rates and the immigration of other deer from surrounding areas.

"Fertility control methods may not provide immediate reduction in population, but can be highly effective in the long term," she said.

Originally published by Michigan Live on May 17, 2105

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