Gunning for deer

A proposal to use hunters to thin deer herds in some southeast Michigan parks sparked heated debate at a public meeting held last week in Oakland Township.

After a yearlong study, the Wildlife Management Advisory Committee for the Huron-Clinton Metroparks recommends that deer at three parks be killed to deal with what the committee calls overgrazing at the parks. There are no firm figures for the number of deer to be killed, and it is not clear how long the herd thinning would take.

Under the proposal – which goes to the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority Board of Commissioners for consideration – recreational bow and shotgun hunters would be used to thin deer herds at Stony Creek Metropark near Washington Township. Additionally, 200 to 300 could be culled from Kensington Metropark, according to Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority spokesman David Moilanen.

The commission also recommends that archers be used to "harvest" deer at Hudson Mills Metropark in Dexter and that a professional sharpshooter be used at Kensington Metropark in Milford. Since Kensington is the most heavily used of the parks, the sharpshooter is the preferred choice to quickly reduce the herd, while keeping the park open to its visitors.

In an often contentious meeting held at Baldwin Elementary School in Oakland Township, residents, hunters and animal rights activists voiced their opinions.

While some residents complained about deer eating their plants and supported the committee’s proposal, others expressed concern about the threat stray bullets and arrows posed for them and their children.

The plan has the enthusiastic support of hunters. Animal rights activists, on the other hand, argued that nonlethal alternatives should be used. Those could include strict feeding bans to prevent artificial stimulation of reproduction rates and protective barriers around botanical viewing areas instead of hunting.

"Shooting firearms in public parks is dangerous and uncalled for," said Linda Reider, regional program coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States. "No matter what type of killing, it’s not justifiable.

"Bowhunting is the least efficient in management technique, it has a high incidence of prolonged suffering prior to the animal’s death. The fact that the committee is proposing bowhunting shows that they are more interested in providing recreational opportunities than they are in professional wildlife management."

Saying that the issue combines politics, biology and emotions, Moilanen disputed the contention that the purpose of the plan is to provide more opportunity for area hunters.

"We haven’t eliminated (using) the nonlethal methods down the road," said Moilanen. "Our goal will be to manage the size of the deer herd. It will never be, as far as I can tell, to provide another recreational hunting opportunity for the people of southeast Michigan."

Looking at Indiana state parks as a model, Moilanen said it is possible that, after holding controlled hunts for two or three years, deer and plant populations will be assessed to determine whether further hunts are necessary.

A second meeting was scheduled for May 18 in Dexter. The third meeting, to discuss the hiring of a sharpshooter for Kensington Metropark in Milford, is to be held May 25 at 7 p.m. at Milford High School 2380 Milford Road, Highland. For more information phone 1-800-477-2757.

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