Ann Arbor is not just conducting a deer cull. It is an urban cull, which is inherently more complicated than hunts or culls in rural areas. Culling in town, close to dense populations, raises practical issues including greater expense, safety considerations and park closures (and diversion of police resources for their enforcement). It also raises legitimate concerns based on people's keen feelings about their neighborhoods: disagreement with the use of parks for killing; objection to firearm discharge in town; distress at the prospect of viewing the aftermath of culling; regrets at municipal action against an animal population that has provided many with moments of delight.
Urban deer culls may be warranted, but they demand a rigor in planning that has been absent here. Proper planning assures residents that the cull is warranted and effective; its absence undermines the cull's legitimacy.
This is not a tactic to stop any cull. Rather, it demands no more than has been done in other locales that have culled deer. Take Solon, Ohio, which has culled since 2005. It established a target of 10-15 deer per square mile and monitors the population through infrared photography and ground counts. Culls reduced the population from 922 to 306, ultimately bringing the municipality to within its targets. Solon's experience demonstrates the feasibility of counts to document overpopulation and monitor the progress of a management program.
Ann Arbor's program started similarly. The initial resolution stated that "scientific studies indicate deer densities of 15-20 per square mile or less are considered a more optimal level." Following this resolution, the city conducted two surveys to establish a baseline deer population count. When they found only 168 deer in Ann Arbor and surroundings (5.7 deer per square mile area-wide, and 8 per square mile in Ward 2), the response was an assertion of an undercount and a resolution to proceed with the culling. While the aerial surveys probably did undercount deer, the better response would have to been to develop more accurate population numbers, a feasible goal given the experience of other municipalities.
This is particularly important since the count showed no overpopulation by generally accepted standards. For example, Hendersonville, Tennessee, with an aerial-count density 70 percent greater than Ann Arbor's, was advised by a USDA biologist that it had no overabundance, but rather a herd that was concentrated in certain areas.
Deer management is also predicated on vegetation damage. Here again, the Ann Arbor cull missed an opportunity for proper planning. A Cornell study defined a method for assessing area-wide vegetation damage, established a minimum standard for forest regeneration and showed how to monitor cull effectiveness. By contrast, Ann Arbor lacks area-wide assessment of deer-browse damage, relying instead on an observational study in a single park. An area-wide study has now been contracted, but results will be uninterpretable: With no pre-cull baseline, it can't assess the impact of current culling, or even establish the necessity of an Ann Arbor cull to begin with.
Some citizens will oppose any cull. This call for proper planning does not stem from such a view. Rather, the inherent complexities of an urban deer cull demand that it be in response not to the broad phenomenon of overpopulation, but documented overpopulation. Ann Arbor has disappointed in this regard, and the continuing controversy is in large measure a product of this deficiency. There is nothing simple about an urban deer cull; the challenges demand careful building of trust in the legitimacy of its motivations. Deficiencies of planning surrounding the Ann Arbor cull undercut this trust.