By Chris Hauler
Entirely East Lansing
Dave Bellmer said he loves this time of year. He said his anticipation for deer hunting season is equivalent to children’s excitement for Christmas. Instead of waking up early to open presents, Bellmer said he gets up around 4 a.m., puts his camouflage overalls on and grabs his coat before heading out the door.
Instead of decorating a tree, he climbs a ladder and sits in his tree blind. There is no hot chocolate because he says deer will smell it. There are no jolly carols sung, only silence. There he remains, sometimes for hours, watching. When one does approach, Bellmer said his heart beats fast with excitement like a child unwrapping that first present on Christmas morning.
“It’s always been that way since I was a kid,” says Bellmer, a local hunter. “My dad had me out in the woods with him as soon as I could walk. I really love it.”
Even though hunting has remained popular, deer overpopulation problems are consistent throughout Michigan, including East Lansing. The issue led city officials to hold a deer management meeting open to the public.
“I went to the meeting and sat back and listened,” said Bellmer, a retired gravel pit worker with Michigan Aggregate. “I wanted to hear from the experts and see what the city plans to do. Hunting has always been the solution in the past.”
Wildlife outreach specialist Jordan Burroughs has assisted the city with deer research and talks with residents to gather their concerns and share them with city officials. Burroughs helped incorporate citizen voices during the meeting.
“Working with residents and hearing about issues of interest to the community is important to me,” said Burroughs. “Community issues such as deer management and hearing their perspective is what I wake up for. It’s my favorite part of my job.”
The meeting was a chance for community members to listen to experts, voice their concerns, and hear about possible solutions. Items of concern include: Destruction of gardens, lack of vegetation in parks, disease and car accidents.
While most citizens blame deer for intruding on city property, deer ecology/management expert Dr. Henry Campa says the problem is manmade
“We have caused changes in the compositional landscape,” said Campa, a Michigan State University professor. “One of those changes is habitat for vegetation where we have taken large parts of single types of vegetation and cut it up into smaller pieces through agriculture and housing development. White tail deer like that kind of condition where there are multiple types of vegetation.”
According to Campa, a challenge for deer management comes from private property owners not allowing hunting on their property.
“Private landowners have a big impact on the survival of animals and the distribution of animals,” said Campa. “Many did not want antlerless deer shot/, hich meant they were in essence in refuges.”
While hunting is a popular focus for controlling deer management, some wildlife conservationists believe alternative methods will be more effective.
“Lethal methods simply don’t work to control populations and can actually make the problem worse,” said Alanna Wagy, a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals representative. “When animals are killed or otherwise removed from the area, more will move in to use available resources. The temporary spike in the food supply will cause remaining does to breed at an accelerated rate. This results in a cruel, ineffective and endless killing cycle.”
Wagy said there is no need for killing measures when non-lethal, long-term and effective measures exist.
“Keeping deer away with common-sense repellents and by targeting their food supply will do the trick in the long run,” said Wagy. “Cutting back edible plants and planting vegetation that has a natural resistance to local deer (native plants) is important. Playing radios, erecting scare crows and fencing will also do the trick; and putting out bars of soap, pepper spray, and yes, human hair, will keep deer out of unwanted areas.”
Even though Bellmer has hunted nearly his entire life, he says sport hunting is something he strongly opposes.
“I only hunt deer that I know I’m going to eat,” said Bellmer. “It’s tough to say whether hunting is a good solution or not. I think not being allowed to hunt on private property is a tough obstacle that can’t be overcome.”
The city of East Lansing has promised to look at all options in its effort to put together an effective plan, but East Lansing Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo said sterilization is not an option.
“We have not considered a neuter/spay option,” said DeShambo. “The experts that we have spoken with have indicated that this is not a feasible solution. We have, however, implemented non-lethal solutions.”
Those solutions include: Community surveys, providing citizens with information about deer-resistant landscape plantings, held community informational meetings and passed a non-feeding ordinance.
The city has put together data including deer/car accident reports, review of best practices, review of practices of other Michigan municipalities, implementation of a city web page about deer management and is currently planning a herd count to inform their next steps. DeShambo said the initial steps taken encouraged the city.
“It is too soon to evaluate the effectiveness of the feeding ban,” said DeShambo. “However, it has gotten the attention of residents which is a good first step. Additionally, the MDNR praised us for taking this step, as did our partners at MSU.”
Campa said he believes habitat change over time is something that needs to be considered because it will be a driving force in influencing the distribution of deer and what decisions need to be made in the present and future.
“Wildlife management is an art and science. Challenges start with habitat, animal population characteristics and human interaction with species communities,” said Campa. “We have to think about the intersection of these three components. We cannot make a wildlife management decision by just dealing with one of these.”