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Posted on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8 a.m.

Humane methods must be considered when addressing deer control in Barton Hills

By Guest Column

As I read a letter that recently came across my desk from an Ann Arbor man expressing deep gratitude for the Humane Society of Huron Valley rescue staff who freed a panicked doe stuck in a fence, I am baffled by the mass deer shooting that was planned to take place in Barton Hills this week.

HSHV handles sick and injured wildlife for our county. As such, I am sensitive to the frustrations and risks that can come from living in an area overrun by any particular species. However, other than it being a nuisance, there seems no strong justification for the solution employed in this situation.

Deer-thumb-350x262-123971.jpg file photo

Every day we see the tragic ramifications of our culture of violence, a politic inclined toward quick fixes, and corporate practices without regard for ethics. It is time we demand that our leaders at all levels approach problems in a more principled and cautious way, especially when it impacts our delicate eco-system.

Along this same vein, at the end of 2012, Michigan passed a law that called for the hunting of wolves in Northern Michigan. After being driven to near extinction, these noble creatures were declared an endangered species decades ago. And now, once they show the slightest glimmer of resurgence, we start the senseless killing again.

Again, I realize there are unique challenges to the few communities that live near wolves. But are there really no strategies that we are able to try that better demonstrate our humanity and advanced intelligence as a species other than shoot it?

For “urban deer,” there are in fact many communities across the country now testing out humane, non-lethal population control methods. They are not, however, quick and easy fixes.

As we have seen historically with the overpopulation of feral cats, we as humans create a problem and then tend to jump to extermination as a cheap and easy remedy. But, this is a very clear case of “you get what you pay for.” Such a remedy is not only unacceptable to animal lovers and an example of brutality for our kids to see, it also is an exercise in futility.

Creating large holes in a population only creates a well-documented phenomenon called the “vacuum effect”. It allows the entrance of animals from other areas and spurs more rapid reproduction of the species under attack, ultimately accomplishing nothing. Our experience and the research show that stopping reproduction, while keeping the animals in their habitat, facilitates a slow but steady population decline.

There is ample evidence showing that the most humane and balanced methods related to human/wildlife conflicts also are the most effective ones. I am deeply saddened by the recent decision made in Ann Arbor and Michigan’s new open season on wolves. I know many others who feel the same. I hope in the future we will find a way to work together to push beyond quick fixes and senseless assault on animals, and model for our children more thoughtful and principled problem solving.

Tanya Hilgendorf is the president and CEO of the Humane Society of Huron Valley.


Richard Wickboldt

Sun, Feb 10, 2013 : 1:17 a.m.

Tanya your title and position of the Humane Society of Huron Valley requires you to play the role and position you take. However it has insulated yourself from reality and common sense. This early morning while making some tea I had the displeasure of watching thirteen deer strolling through my back yard eating anything they could get their mouth on. They even now stand on their hind legs because everything at eye level is already denuded by day after day, year after year of grazing. Ten years ago when I moved to Ann Arbor I would only see two or three deer. The flora was able to survive and sustain itself. But over the years the population has grown and much of the neighborhood has been devastated by the deer. Young trees don't even survive past a couple of years. The natural eco balance is out of kilter. You are very welcome to come over here and relocate the deer to your neighborhood. I will give you a welcome hand. Billions of chickens and millions of cows are killed each year. A few deer harvested in Ann Arbor would be okay and provide some nice healthy protein to the area's families of need. Ann Arbor has resource funding for an organization known as Natural Area Preservation. Taking care of overpopulated animals is part of natural area preservation.

Unusual Suspect

Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 9:33 p.m.

Tanya, what's the difference between a "noble animal" and a non-noble animal? What characteristic gives certain species one distinction or the other?


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

Re: "How can I get some of this meat?" And, "I eat the ones I shoot. 100% all natural." I myself am not wild about the idea of eating meat from animals with such a high level of pesticides in their diet, many of which pesticides are specifically forbidden for use on feed destined for animal, then ultimately human, consumption. But a lot of people don't worry about this, or simply limit their consumption –– c.f. the FDA warnings advising women of child-bearing age to limit their consumption of fish with high mercury levels. Prison systems also have a long history of feeding rural, road-kill deer to inmates. These deer have a higher percentage of wild foods in their diets, and lower levels of ornamental-garden pesticides. But I don't know how I'd feel about feeding the pesticide-laden meat from this cull to a captive audience...


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

@ nicedoggy, re: "I eat the ones I shoot . 100% all natural." I myself am not wild about the high levels of pesticides in their diet, many of which pesticides have been outlawed for use in growing animal feed. But a lot of people agree with you, and a lot of people love venison, even urban venison. Those people should certainly be allowed to enjoy the fruits of this cull if they want. Prisons also have a long history of serving rural, road-kill deer. That's one thing, they have a higher percentage of wild food in their diets. But I'm not sure if I'd support feeding the pesticide-laden meat from this cull to a captive audience...


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 8:05 a.m.

Venison is murder! Tasty-tasty murder. :-) And re: "I hope in the future we will find a way to work together to push beyond quick fixes and senseless assault on animals, and model for our children more thoughtful and principled problem solving." - How about we work to model for our children how to NOT see them trapped in gun free zones where "disrespectful" psychos have all of them for easy targets FIRST? Seems to me (I may be wrong) that's a wee bit more urgent than fretting over "deer rights." Just a tip, Ms. Hilgendorf: this is NOT a Bambi movie, it's real life where there are human priorities which - for some "odd reason" - have precedence over animal rights. But if this is some cheap trick to get readers to send you to Disneyland for a week: I say shame on you! Oh and if you want to rescue excess populations of wildlife -there's a great plentitude of 14-foot pythons down in Florida. (and no shortage of released pet cobras, rattlesnakes and large gators).


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Humane is a good shot! I've hit deer with cars 3 different times and seen too many car /deer accidents. Try catching one in your windshield or losing a loved one in an accident. I eat the ones I shoot . 100% all natural.

Andy Przybylski

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

When is this happening? How can we get some of this meat and not let the dear go to waste?


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 2:16 a.m.

@ Macabre Sunset, re: "In terms of survival and changing the landscape, we've got nothing on many insect species." The big difference is that we are capable of reflecting on the consequences of our actions, and adjusting our behavior accordingly... Or just burying our heads in the sand, and continuing on mindlessly.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 4:51 a.m.

In other words, we mean well, so we might as well pretend we're motivated by altruism rather than greed?


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 1:59 a.m.

The deer need to be shot and removed - there is no humane way to do that other than shooting and removing them. They are dangerous, over-populated, and disgusting; spreading disease and ruining crops and plants. They might look cute like Bambi, but they are not.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8:31 p.m.

Wow is she uninformed.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

Here's something else to think about: Many Wildlife Biologists have noted the direct correlation between leash laws and runaway urban deer populations. So forget about that stupid little dog park in West Park! How about we throw out our leash law entirely, and go back to the way this town was throughout my entire childhood, and well into my adult years? There goes your Barton Hills deer problem, folks! Poof, just like that!


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

Part of the myth of "Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Release" (TNVR) concerning feral cats is that they will abandon their predatory ways once neutered and well-fed on a regular basis –– and set aside, for the moment, the fact that that IS a myth, a complete fantasy, as any cat owner who has come home to find a robin or a cardinal on their doormat can attest. Nobody would even think of saying, however, that deer will stop being destructive if neutered. So what's the point? An extremely high percentage of the herd's does would have to be spayed to have any significant effect at all on herd size, and that only over many years. The most immediate effect on the size of the herd would be the mortality rate during the neutering process, especially if the deer were transported at all –– they are extremely sensitive to stress. And what is so humane about dying from shock, as opposed to a bullet? Also, if claims of the "vacuum effect" are true, what is the point of any attempt at population control at all? By the very logic that the anti-cull crowd subscribe to, more deer will immediately move right back in. Nothing at all wrong with a neutering program as a part of an Integrated Pest Management Program (except, perhaps, the extravagant cost –– around $1,000 per doe, if no volunteers are involved, versus $150 or so per doe for a cull program). But you have to use ALL of the tools available, not just a single one.

Bill Wilson

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 2:53 p.m.

hmsp, I believe that you're unaware of the fact that even domesticated cats will still chase birds. When a bird is dropped in front of you, or left for you by your cat, you should praise the cat. He/she is bringing you the bird as a gift, and to demonstrate their great hunting skills. If you do not praise them, you're being cruel to the cat.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 7:14 p.m.

Or maybe we're just animals ourselves and exhibiting competitive behavior just like any other species. In terms of survival and changing the landscape, we've got nothing on many insect species.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 7 p.m.

@ jcj, re: "If we were playing God with the deer population, then programs to save the eagle, wolf, are also acts of us playing God. Should we not have done that?" Nothing wrong with playing God if you can pull it off. But if you screw it up, or need to tweak it, the fact remains that, as I said, "We are... collectively responsible for the consequences, and collectively responsible for coming up with solutions."


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:56 p.m.

I am familiar with the concept of the "vacuum effect," and am aware that there are many documented instances in which the deer population rebounded to approximately the same levels within a year or two. But there are also many cases in which, after a major cull, and after the institution of regular, low-level culls in successive years, the deer populations were able to be controlled down to levels that the communities were quite content with. Ms. Hilgendorf acknowledges that other, "non-lethal population control methods... are not... quick and easy fixes." And given that this deer population was intentionally grown for the express purpose and end result of having those deer shot, killed, and (usually, but not always) eaten, what makes these specific deer any different from the rest of the deer in Michigan?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:49 p.m.

Introduce a pack of Gray Wolves and let them work out the details with the deer. How natural is that...?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:36 p.m.

Top Cat bristles at Ms. Hilgendorf's statement that "we as humans create a problem," but we most certainly do. A hundred years ago, there were less than 50,000 deer in Michigan. Then, the DNR started on a program to increase their numbers, in response to popular demand for that end result. Now, we count the white-tail deer population by the millions, not thousands. Thus, we are all collectively to blame for that decision to play God. Collectively responsible for the consequences, and collectively responsible for coming up with solutions.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

If we were playing God with the deer population, then programs to save the eagle, wolf, are also acts of us playing God. Should we not have done that?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:30 p.m.

@ Macabre Sunset: Not quite sure how you were able to magically turn this into a liberal/conservative fight in your head. I stand a fair ways to the left of liberal, but I feel that neutering programs are largely feel-good exercises not unlike taking a paper bag back to the grocery store, then smugly telling the cashier to "save a tree."


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

By "neutering programs," I mean TNR/TNVR pest-management programs. The HSHV does a fabulous service by neutering ALL animals prior to adoption, and I did not mean to lump that excellent policy in with the more dubious TNR/TNVR ones.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:08 p.m.

If you've ever seen a deer hit in the vitals with a high powered rifle, you would know that death is usually instantaneous and most certainly humane.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

The Humane Society also does the "spay & release" of Feral cats that are destroying our songbird population. Little is more brutal then to dump cats out into Michigan winters! Lest folks forget; cats are tropical animals better suited to North Africa then our northern climates. Yet the Humane Society persists in this practice that benefits nothing and hurts the environment yet they criticize the cull. By the way I understand that what remains of the WOLF population on Isle Royale is 9 wolves. No one in DNR knows why the huge die off.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.

These are essentially rats, and we have eliminated their predators. Moreover, they are big enough to cause serious problems when they multiply. I find the liberal response to this problem ironic. Even on the suspicion that man is making the planet warmer, they advocate extreme and expensive solutions. Yet when we have evidence that man has caused the deer population to explode, causing other problems, the liberals don't want "nature" harmed. There is neither rhyme nor reason for this disconnect.

Ghost of Tom Joad

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 9:25 p.m.

This OpEd is not a "liberal" response. uneducated it may be, but to generalize an entire ideology based off your prejudices is illogical. Although, apropos for your regular comments on this site.


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 11:03 p.m.

There's not even a "connect" in your logic. The "liberal response"? One person represents the "liberal response"? I'm not sure how you got into climate change, but if you're in denial, then you're denying overwhelming, documented, and universally accepted evidence that climate change is in fact happening. The planting zones have been adjusted and there are numerous documentations of birds migrating to zones they've never migrated to before. That's not "suspicion" pal, those are cold hard facts.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:50 p.m.

"However, other than it being a nuisance, there seems no strong justification for the solution employed in this situation." As my daddy used to say, "No problem is big to the man who doesn't have to deal with it."

Rork Kuick

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

"There is ample evidence showing that the most humane and balanced methods related to human/wildlife conflicts also are the most effective ones." Reader has to guess what is being proposed, and maybe there's a reason for that. If there's actually been a successful population decline induced by contraception in free-roaming deer I would like to read about it, and know what it costs. Do you mean PZP? Is it even legal to use it in this case? We might have something practical some day, but is there now?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

I have to admit that a shelter in downtown Ann Arbor for homeless and unwanted deer (maybe one for pigeons, too) would be a stunning example of the kindness and generosity of the special people who live there. As long as they don't give them alcohol or loose change. Excuse me, I have to scratch an itch, I think a tick bit me. Ya know, my joints hurt and I seem to be getting a high fever.....


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

There is a simple solution in the spirit of this op-ed: Bring the unwanted wolves from the Upper Peninsula to Barton Hills. They will thin the deer.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 10:41 p.m.

They'll help with school overcrowding too. There are bus stops around there, right?

Basic Bob

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

Works for me.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

I am glad there are other people that feel the same way.

Boo Radley

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:36 p.m.

The Huron-Clinton Metroparks has been using a similar deer cull program for years now, and they have documented that the program has been very successful. While it requires ongoing culls/hunts of a much more reduced scope, the herds remain much smaller and more appropriate to the area, the deer herd is much healthier and important and endangered plants have returned.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

Someone that is president of the Humane Society should be more than aware of the fact that we have an OVER-POPULATION of deer. This letter just exposes her naivete and lack of knowledge on the subject, and shows she has a lot to learn about deer populations in Michigan.

Dog Guy

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:23 p.m.

Keeping an open mind without learning about the unknown only creates a well-documented phenomenon called the "vacuum effect" into which notions and fantasies flutter. I learned hunting by hunting and found it hard work and, when successful, yucky gutting. I no longer hunt, but not because Bambi is my gentle, harmless friend.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

they're deer, get over it. They taste good too!

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:09 p.m.

For some people, exterminating animals from their property is all about control.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2 p.m.

Baloney! Taking out 30% of the does WILL slow reproduction!


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

So, basically, you don't want anybody to hunt anything ever, right?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

Nailed it.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Maybe we could get the old AAPD chief to pick up the deer and drive them to some other city that has a nice deer shelter. I hear he's available.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

I like deer! They taste good.

Basic Bob

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:24 p.m.

They should put them in the supermarket.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

Rumor has it that AR-10's would be an effective tool for thinning out the deer population.


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

Don't forget the 100 round drums!


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 10:39 p.m.

Do you mean AR-15s? Or A-10s? I vote for the latter, because they would also be effective in thinning out Barton Hills in general.

Top Cat

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

Deer are rats with hooves and there are way too many of them. As for the "we as humans create a problem", I will take no responsibilty for the law that prevents people from killing deer on their own property at any time. Ms. Hilgendorf would do better spending more time listneing to people who have suffered injury to themselves or damage to their vehicles because of car-deer accidents. Her Disney-esque romancing of these creatures is unbecoming to someone of her position.


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 7:49 a.m.

"Deer are rats with hooves ..." -- Honestly, thanks for the LOL moment. ;-) And you nailed it with: "Disney-esque" - that perfectly describes those who are trapped in Bambi movies until death kindly takes them from our midst .