By Cayden Royce
The Meridian Times
When Joan Pravis commutes from her subdivision to the Okemos Community Church, she says it’s not uncommon for white-tailed deer to frequent her driveway, backyard and roadways.
“Sometimes we have them in the church parking lot even,” she said.
As a church office manager, Pravis helps feed around 40 families per month through the Okemos food bank. Last year, the church received 500 pounds of venison from the Deer Management Program to feed homeless and low-income families.
The program allows township residents to hunt on previously restricted lands to reduce the overpopulation of deer.
“It also gets some of those animals off the roads so we don’t have as many car accidents,” Pravis said.
Since the program began, vehicle and deer collisions in the township have increased from 152 in 2011, 153 in 2012 and 179 in 2013. The number of hunters in the program have also increased from 23 in 2011 to 72 this year.
Eligible hunters in the program must be township residents, age 18 or older and need to fulfill an Archery Workshop at MSU’s Demmer Center.
The program permits only bowhunting and the hunters must pass an archery proficiency test after going over hunter safety rules and regulations with instructors at the Demmer Center.
As part of MSU, the center hosts national archery champions. It has indoor and outdoor archery and rifle ranges. In addition to coaching the MSU archery team, Glen Bennett is the archery program coordinator at the shooting range.
“We want to make sure that number one, we’re taking a look at their equipment and making sure there’s no animal damage with the bow or crossbow and we want to make sure they’re safe,” Bennett said.
The 72 hunters have been hunting on about 20 county and township properties from Oct. 1 to Nov. 14 and will continue Dec. 1 through Jan. 1. Archers are required to shoot one female doe before securing a buck.
In partnership with Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger, all the deer meat from the township is donated to community food banks. The venison is processed at Merindorf Meats in Mason, Michigan.
Merindorf Meats butcher Garrett Main prepared the venison for the township. He said this was his first year processing the venison, which was an eye-opening experience for him. Store owner Linn Merindorf put Main in charge of the project.
“Linn really likes to give back to the community, that’s one of the reasons he does deer processing,” Main said.
Compared to beef products, venison has a higher level of protein per pound. It contains about a 95 percent meat-to-fat ratio.
As an avid hunter, Main supports the program goal of giving back to the community.
“Deer populations are exploding in rural, or really, urban areas they’re really exploding,” he says. “I used to run a paper route and we saw immense populations of deer.”
He estimated that he helped process nearly 1,000 deer this hunting season and that about 20 percent of the meat was picked up for donation by Sportsmen Against Hunger. About 175 deer were from the township, Main said. Others were donated through HOPE, or Help Other People Eat.
HOPE is a nonprofit organization like Sportsmen Against Hunger, which delivers venison from meat processors to local food banks. With HOPE, The Lansing City Rescue Mission is able to provide venison at no cost to the homeless.
“We provide over 100,000 meals a year,” said City Rescue Mission Executive Director Mark Chriss. “It’s very helpful. Free and fresh and it works well for us.”
Emergency housing and support service shelter Haven House is part of the program’s outreach. Last year was the first time the shelter got involved with the deer harvest donation project.
“They gave us about 50 pounds of ground venison,” said volunteer and special projects coordinator Leah Weidner. “We have 30 people here every night. It was a nice bonus for us. I would say it lasted through the winter.”
The harvest is also helping guide research at MSU to study patterns of deer behaviors.
“Part of my role here is to first look at patterns of relatedness among deer in these urban areas so that we can come up with a management plan that uses their social structure to manage them,” says Research Associate Joanne Crawford.
Funded by the Michigan DNR, MSU’s research operates out of the Boone and Crockett Quantitative Wildlife Lab. Crawford is using her research to work with Meridian Township.
“I do DNA fingerprinting just like we see on CSI,” she said. “We can use a scalpel rather than a chainsaw. We can come in here and say, well let’s have a bow hunt over here…We’re just going to hunt in little pockets that have a consensus.”
Since the township has a lot of green space, Crawford said the parks are a giant buffet for deer. She believes that it will take multiple solutions to offset the abundance of deer.
“If we did not have hunting as a legacy in our country, we would not have the parks, the forests, that we have today,” she said.
As a pilot study, the collaborative deer research might resolve future issues with vehicle and deer collisions in the future.
“All we can do is give people information and that’s for the public and Michigan DNR and Meridian Township to decide how they manage,” Crawford said.