These days, it seems you can back up just about any point of view, depending on which facts you choose to cite. So, let’s take a moment to set aside the debate over data when it comes to Ann Arbor’s deer management plan, including sterilization and a lethal cull. In this first of our two-part series in “The Green Room,” Barbara Lucas focuses instead on the underlying perspectives and value systems guiding some of the voices in this contentious issue.
David Fair (DF): This is 89-1 WEMU and I’m David Fair. In 2016, the City of Ann Arbor began a deer management program. So far, they’ve culled about 250 deer, and sterilized another 73. Passions have run high in the ensuing controversy. And now, with a proposal to ban wildlife sterilization statewide, those who want to keep this option on the table find themselves pitted against supporters of the ban. In this first of a two-part series on the topic, we’ll explore underlying perspectives that shape views on fundamental questions, such as, “Do Ann Arbor’s deer have a right to live?” and “Does Ann Arbor have a right to sterilize its deer?” Barbara Lucas went exploring for answers, in “The Green Room.”
Protesters chanting “Stop the shoot, save the deer! Stop the shoot, save the deer!”
Barbara Lucas (BL): At first glance, this issue can seem pretty clear-cut: The Humane Society of Huron Valley position statement says there is no biological overpopulation of deer in Ann Arbor, and thus, no need for reducing their numbers, by either lethal or non-lethal means. They feel people just need to learn how to co-exist with the deer. Meanwhile, some folks disagree.
Bernie Banet: We really do have a problem. Deer do double in population every two years. And they really do destroy the natural environment.
BL: Bernie Banet is a member of Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance.
Banet: Many bird and animal species and insects, pollinators, lots of other things are in jeopardy.
BL: Banet’s group says they value all species, not just the ones that pull at our heart-strings. His group is also very concerned about impacts to the human species, such as Lyme Disease and deer-car collisions.
Footsteps in snow.
Banet: You asked where the deer are. Really they are everywhere in this neighborhood.
BL: We’re in Banet’s backyard off Geddes Avenue, near the Arboretum. His bushes are wrapped up in deer-proof netting.
Banet: Groups of as many as eight or more come through.
BL: One mile east of here is Huron Hills Golf course. A few weeks ago, nineteen Ann Arbor does were darted, drugged and brought to the course’s maintenance shed where ovary-removal surgery was performed by veterinarians. When I first met Banet a few years ago, he was steadfastly against the sterilization option. But now…
Banet: We’ve learned some things, we really have!
BL: He says they’ve learned culling in just the parks isn’t enough: some does stay in the neighborhoods. They never wander into a park where they could be culled. He says although sterilization is a slow way to reduce numbers, it’s safer and more accepted in the neighborhoods.
Banet: If that’s all we’re given, it’s better than nothing in my opinion.
BL: He feels, at the least, it’s potentially useful as a research study.
Banet: Is it feasible? …which a lot of us doubted. I mean one reason we argued against it originally was we didn't think you could go into a neighborhood and sterilize 98% of the does.
BL: He’s awed the deer management company hired by the city, “White Buffalo,”
Banet: …seems to be able to do that, which is really quite remarkable.
BL: Last year, 54 sterilizations were performed, but this year, only about a third as many, partly due to frigid cold. Whether we’ll have any at all next year, is in question. Legislation being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee would ban wildlife sterilizations in Michigan.
BL: I spoke with the bill’s sponsor, Representative Triston Cole.
BL [on the phone]: So we're really interested in finding out, number one, if HB 5321 would allow Ann Arbor to continue the sterilizations or not.
Rep. Triston Cole: No it would not. And here's part of the reason: the deer around the Ann Arbor are not Ann Arbor's deer. They belong to all sportsmen and all residents.
BL: Cole, a lifelong hunter, represents House District 105, in northern Michigan.
Cole: They don't belong to anybody. The big thing is for people to understand these are a resource of the entire state.
BL: Deer as a “resource.” That makes me think of a comment from a citizen at an Ann Arbor City Council meeting.
Ambient sound of City Council chambers.
Citizen: Animals are our relatives, not our resources!
BL [repeating, for clarity]: Animals are our relatives, not our resources.
Fade out ambient sound of City Council chambers.
BL: I’m wondering how this person would feel about hunters in the neighborhoods. Perhaps the deer belong to the state, but…
BL [on the phone]: They would counter that it's on their land that these lethal methods would be used.
Rep. Cole: Right. And that's a fair argument.
BL: But he says if deer welfare is truly the concern: Chronic Wasting Disease has recently spread to Michigan. It causes deer suffering, and certain death, spreading quickly when they’re densely populated. Cole says it’s our responsibility to prevent this.
Rep. Cole: The best method is going to be through using sportsmen to manage populations.
BL: He disagrees sterilized deer act as “placeholders,” preventing non-sterilized deer from moving in.
Rep. Cole: And so it's something that's not going to solve the problem, it's simply a Band Aid. Solving it would be to make sure you have a sustainable population at all times.
BL: Bernie Banet agrees with Cole, in-migration is a concern.
Banet: If it turns out that there are too many wandering in, we would show that sterilization is not effective.
BL: But he feels at this time, banning sterilization statewide is premature.
Banet: Ann Arbor is doing something very valuable by at least trying it out.
BL: But Representative Cole does not want the procedure to spread as an option. Sterilized deer can’t be eaten due to the anesthesia in their system. Cole feels that’s a waste of valuable, healthy nutrition. He sees eating deer as a win-win population control measure. I bring up the stance of those who protest Ann Arbor’s cull, because they feel killing them is wrong.
BL [on the phone]: “There's so much violence in the world that we shouldn't be teaching our kids to,” you know, “solve our problems with violence.”
Rep. Cole: And I would say I would say, well look, what's more violent: me harvesting a deer with my archery equipment or somebody shooting a bullet to the brain of a steer, what's the difference?
BL: I point out that many just don’t want to hear gunshots, and fear accidental harm to humans or pets. Cole says the answer is bow hunting, which he says is both quiet, and safe. But Bernie Banet doesn’t think that option stands much of a chance in Ann Arbor.
Banet: Well, we know what happens with bowhunting: the Humane Society says that it is more inhumane than firearms, because death is not as immediate.
BL: Representative Cole says eating animals is a natural part of being human, and many city folk have lost touch with that fact. He feels the rural-urban divide is deepening.
Rep. Cole: If they're not brought up with an understanding of the hunter-gatherer background that has been done throughout history, they don't understand why hunting even exists today.
BL: He knows urban dwellers might not “get him.”
Rep. Cole: I use my bow, my crossbow my handgun my rifle my shotgun—I use all those things, and I simply see them as tools.
BL: He says he grew up loving everything about the out-of-doors.
Rep. Cole: I’m this supposedly cruel hunter guy. I actually deeply care. I mean it's part of my whole being care about the environment and wildlife. A lot of folks don't understand how I could be a hunter and still have that personal connection.
BL: Apparently, there’s nothing simple about Ann Arbor’s deer situation, and the underlying opinions on it. For instance, Bernie Banet is a vegan who supports the sterilization study, but he also firmly supports the cull. Meanwhile, Representative Triston Cole is a hunter, but deeply cares about nature. To hear more about the value systems that shape Ann Arbor’s deer debate, stay tuned for the second part of this two-part series.
Protestors chanting: “No killing deer in the Arb! No killing deer in the Arb!”
In “The Green Room,” I’m Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU News.
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