HSHV president warns of parks not being cordoned off and entrances unmarked for Ann Arbor deer cull

Sixteen city parks to close for sharpshooters throughout January

By Matt Giles - Associate Producer

ANN ARBOR - Starting Monday, the city of Ann Arbor, in collaboration with the University of Michigan, will conduct a lethal deer cull with a goal of killing up to 250 deer by sharpshooters who have been contracted by the city through White Buffalo, Inc. The cull will last through Jan. 31 and will result in the closing of the following 16 city parks from 3 p.m. to midnight, every day:

  • Arbor Hills Nature Area
  • Barton Nature Area (Foster area north of Warrington Dr. only)
  • Bird Hills Nature Area
  • Foxfire West Nature Area
  • Glazier Hill Nature Area
  • Huron Parkway/Braun Nature Areas
  • Leslie Park Golf Course
  • Leslie Woods Nature Area
  • Narrow Gauge Way Nature Area
  • Oakridge Nature Area (East of Huron Parkway only)
  • Oakwoods Nature Area
  • Olson Park (The dog park and parking lot will remain open)
  • South Pond Nature Area (Only the area in the vicinity of NAP office at 3875 E. Huron River Dr.)
  • Stapp Nature Area
  • Sugarbush Park (North of Rumsey Dr. only])
  • Traver Creek Nature Area

According to the Humane Society of Huron Valley, however, the parks are not cordoned off and some entrances don't have signs. This raises a number of concerns, not the least of which are pets interested in bait piles and people who don’t see signs -- or where there are no signs posted -- who may inadvertently wander into sharpshooting areas.

As of this writing, Arbor Hills Park and Arbor Hills Nature Area has an unmarked entrance. Two of its three official entrances have signs; one does not. The unmarked entrance is off Green Road, next to a path that’s frequented by dog walkers and by a bus stop where students are dropped off.

“I reported this problem to several top city officials over two weeks ago, and it still hasn’t been fixed,” Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV’s CEO and president said. “There is also no signage in front of Sugar Bush Park, a park with a playground, where people have been sledding.”

No signage at Sugar Bush Park. (Credit: HSHV)

Another important item to note: The closing of these parks can also impact the folks who are out looking for lost dogs. In the past two weeks, HSHV has received reports of four different dogs lost in one of the 16 parks set to close for the cull.

In light of the many concerns surrounding the deer cull, we followed up with Hilgendorf via email for more specifics, as well as HSHV's stance on the issue. Below is an edited version of our conversation. 

For those who may not know, what is a deer cull, and why is it taking place? 

It’s important to first clear up some misconceptions. Ann Arbor does not have an overpopulation of deer and the deer are not sick or injured and are not causing humans any sickness or injury. It’s not about Lyme Disease, CWD or even a high rate of car collisions. Ann Arbor is not even on the top 50 list for deer and vehicle collisions in Michigan.  

Their latest count shows 350 or so deer. This does not meet any definition of overpopulation. Even the DNR has stated ours is simply an issue of “social intolerance,” defined solely by the level of human acceptance and most people, even by city survey, accept the deer. In a community of 160,000 residents and college students, we should be able to give a little space and patience to wildlife.  

Ann Arbor is a growing and densely populated community punctuated throughout by small nature areas and the beautiful Huron River. Development activity and natural area preservation has happened in a way that causes people and wildlife to live in closer and closer proximity, as the animals have nowhere else to go.  

This causes conflict and is a product of our own actions. We have a small but vocal group of residents, upset deer eat their plantings. I understand that people want to protect their property and their investment, but there are much better and cheaper ways of solving this conflict than killing.

Some people say they are worried about collisions though Ann Arbor has had no fatalities or serious injuries related to deer, and until a couple of months ago, the city never tried anything to address this concern. Adjustments to sight lines, attention-grabbing signage, speed limits and roadside deterrents are all effective strategies to preventing collisions with deer. As is not building in the middle of their homes.  

We say we are concerned about too many deer in our natural areas, but natural areas are their home, and we continually demolish them for more homes for people. Bulldozers are much more damaging to natural areas than deer. 

What is HSHV's stance on the cull? 

Our stance is that it is unnecessary and a waste of money. It causes needless community conflict and uses violence to solve a problem for which there are other solutions. It is something that has to be repeated every year because the population rebounds either through increased birth rates, because there is more food and space available, or because deer right outside will move in.

There are effective, creative, less costly and much less controversial ways of dealing with human animal conflict. Many communities are doing this much better than we are. In fact, we haven’t tried a single proven strategy.  

Instead, the city, in collaboration with the University of Michigan, chose to try to shoot the problem away. Now we are in our third year of shooting and the financial cost keeps growing -- showing that culling is ineffective and expensive.  

Ann Arbor espouses values of tolerance and nonviolent solutions, but did not apply any of that to deer. We have a city and the University of Michigan, supposedly with some of the smartest people in the world, and yet we could apply no intelligence or creativity to this problem. Their only solution was to shoot. Seems rather hypocritical and totally disrespectful of animal life.

You mentioned a lack of signage and public safety concerns. Can you elaborate on that? 

I suppose the only thing worse than having a sign next to your home warning of sharpshooters, is not having one when there should be one. We know of two parks where there is not proper signage. One is near a school bus stop. Plus, our parks have official entrances and unofficial entrances. They are not buildings with doors. Even when there is signage at an entrance, the parks are not cordoned off. You can easily enter and not see a sign in various areas.  

In your opinion, related to HSHV's stance on the cull, what does the closing of 16 parks mean for the city and residents of Ann Arbor? What should people know?

No other urban cull is like Ann Arbor’s. Ann Arbor is not a rural town. These are not far away parks. They are parks next to our homes and bus stops. They are interwoven throughout a very populated city. So many of us live next to signs warning of sharpshooters. Speaking as a resident, a parent and a pet owner, this is a terrible way to live. A normally safe town now feels very unsafe.

There are many different issues of concern here besides deer. Whether people support the cull or not, effective use of tax dollars, property rights, public safety and how we model problem resolution for our children are all serious concerns.  

The public park system is paid for with our tax dollars. It was not the park users who asked for the cull, yet residents are being denied use of the parks that they pay for.  

And this year, the city has expanded the cull; they are now shooting on private property, opting not to respect the 450 safety zone rule of not shooting near occupied dwellings, and they said they won’t be notifying neighbors. We believe if there is shooting next to your home, you have a right to know.

There are so many better uses of our tax dollars. Our homeless shelter has an entire floor closed and a long waiting list to get in due to lack of funding. The money from the cull could be used to open that floor. Our crosswalks have proven to be dangerous. Last year, a young high school student was killed crossing a poorly lit crosswalk. Everyone knew this crosswalk was dangerous, but the city said it did not have the funds to fix it. Right across the street, we were paying sharpshooters to kill deer for eating plants.  

We should be finding ways to solve our problems without guns and violence. It is a total disregard of animal life and is a terrible example for our children. We live in a very scary world. Every day we have to worry about school shooters. We need our kids to look to nonviolent ways to solve problems. The cull demonstrates the opposite of what we should be teaching.

Anything else about the deer cull that you want people to be aware of, either as a concerned citizen or as the voice of HSHV? 

Deer are native to Michigan. They live in every single county. Their population up north, nearly 2 million, is managed by the DNR, kept high for the benefit of the hunting industry. Ann Arbor is not an island or a fenced-in community. Killing those within city limits just makes room for new deer to move in and also has the likelihood of increasing the birth rate as more food and space is available.

Love them or hate them, deer are here to stay. You can’t shoot the problem away. It’s just bad public policy.  

Wildlife are a part of this community and are part of what makes Ann Arbor special. With benefit always comes some drawbacks. Always. You can’t have one side of a stick, as they say.  A little understanding, patience and creativity go a long way in peaceful co-existence.

HSHV’s full position statement on the cull is available online here. What are your thoughts on the cull? Let us know in the comments below. 

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