By Cayden Royce
The Meridian Times
Seventy-two hunters will be on restricted land trying to reduce Meridian Township’s white-tail deer population between Oct. 1 and Jan. 1.
The township creates the perfect storm, says Meridian Township Assistant Park Naturalist Nick Sanchez. There are more than 900 acres of public parks within the township of more than 40,000 people.
Sanchez said the hunters were selected to hunt on 19 township properties and one county property during the regular archery and firearm season.
“This is kind of a special program to hunt in the parks and land preserves,” Sanchez said. “They haven’t been hunted previously.”
Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Chad Fedewa said local ordinances often restrict hunting within city limits statewide. He has worked with Meridian Township for several years to help program officials navigate through the process of allowing hunters onto restricted land.
Sanchez collects the names and information of interested hunters. To be eligible a qualified hunter must be a Meridian Township resident and must pass a background check, safety workshop and proficiency test.
He said most residents are in favor of the program but there has been some opposition.
“People are concerned about safety as far as hunters being on the land preserves,” he said.
Designated hunters will be in land preserves containing mostly wooded areas as opposed to recreational zones.
Sanchez said the program began after an increasing number of residents complained about the destruction of landscaping surrounding residential areas became a nuisance.
“They (deer) end up over-browsing the forest and actually changing the species comparatively within our parks,” Sanchez said.
Another source of frustration for township residents came from vehicle and deer collisions. Within the past few years, deer collisions increased by nearly 18 percent, from 152 in 2011 to 180 in 2013, Sanchez said.
In the fourth year of the program, Sanchez said there hasn’t been a significant impact on vehicle and deer collisions.
“We think we need a long-term commitment to really make a difference on the deer population,” Sanchez said.
Each year, the Department of Natural Resources reviews the township proposal to respond to potential questions or concerns.
Fedewa said municipalities across the state have developed similar programs to reduce the overpopulation of deer.
“Southern Michigan has more deer than the northern part,” Fedewa said.
The Department of Natural Resources, conservation groups and Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger organized the idea of Meridian Township donating the venison to local charities.
Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger is a Warren, Michigan, based nonprofit organization that partners with donors, wild game processors and charity affiliations to help feed the needy.
“Almost every state has some kind of venison donation program,” said Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger Founder and Vice President Neal Easterbrook.
Easterbrook said he works with various parks, airports and other properties to harvest an average of 35,000 pounds of venison per year statewide for food banks.
After hearing about Meridian Township’s program on the news, Easterbrook wanted to partner with the local government and hunting clubs to provide funding and assistance.
Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger pays venison processing fees and arranges deliveries with the local charities.
Last year 1,300 pounds of venison were distributed to local food banks including several churches as well as other nonprofit organizations including Haven House, an East Lansing homeless shelter. One pound of venison is equivalent to five meals, says Sanchez.
“Our processor is Merindorf Meats in Mason and then from there the venison is distributed to local food banks,” Sanchez said.