By RJ Wolcott
Meridian Times staff writer
OKEMOS- In the past few months, there has been discussion in Meridian Township between hunters and public officials regarding the deer population.
Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts want to have continued success hunting in the area with a strong deep population, while some public officials see the current population as having potentially negative effects.These concerns include environmental and health issues.
The process began when Meridian Township released a survey to the public asking for input regarding the current deer population on Aug. 24. More than 70 percent of residents said they support deer population control hunt.
Township Treasurer Julie Brixie said she had heard numerous reports of residents complaining about deer damaging foliage. But she said the problems are more than just rustled bushes.
“There has been an increase in recent years in the number of deer-related car crashes in the township,” Brixie said.
Jane Greenway, parks and land management coordinator for Meridian, also notes that the deer are prominent in the community, she said: “They just stand in the road, it’s so sad.”
Greenway also notes that deer can carry potentially harmful illnesses such as Lyme disease.
As a result of the feedback, Meridian Township released a deer management plan on Oct. 12. The plan outlined strategies to curb the deer population in certain sections of township property. A limited number of permits were issued to experienced local hunters, and 41 deer were killed.
The program was so successful that on Jan. 3 the hunt was extended until the end of February. However some sportsmen in the community came forward to oppose the extension.
Eric Virkfurseth has managed the deer population on his land for years and said that the population could be managed better by the county.
At the Feb. 7 township meeting, Virkfurseth called for a board of volunteer outdoors enthusiasts to collect data on the true number of deer on public land. Virkfurseth said that while the 2011 hunt was successful, it could have been done better.
“There was no objective number. It was go out there, put some people together and see how many there are,” Virkfurseth said.
Virkfurseth said that an experienced group of hunters could count the number of deer and then the township could make decisions based on that figure. Virkfurseth said that while a county-funded survey had come up with somewhere near 2,000 deer in the area, he estimated the number as being close to 800.
Virkfurseth also said that in January and February, the doe population is well into its first trimester of pregnancy. Virkfurseth said that because male deer lose their antlers during these months, that the township could be harvesting a valuable resource instead of simply controlling the doe population.
Meridian Township Trustee John R. Veenstra supported the plan. He said: “We (the township board) just don’t have the money to do it, but it should be done by volunteers.”
Veenstra and Virkfurseth also stressed the need for more data regarding where car deer accidents are occurring. Other board members seemed skeptical, but Virkfurseth said that he is working on assembling volunteers.