Ludington City Council October 10, 2022: Deer in the Spotlights

There would be only two action items on the agenda for the Ludington City Council on the evening of October 10, 2022, the consideration of two ordinances addressing the deer population in the city limits.  On the first reading of both ordinances at the prior meeting, both had a bit of controversy and discussion.  It would be no different this night as the council would commit nearly two hours to mulling over a 'deer feeding' and a 'deer culling' ordinance.

The deer feeding ordinance was not too controversial for its core function to make it unlawful for citizens to purposefully feed deer, although some problems arose over some of the poorly defined and seemingly arbitrary parts of it.  The main controversy arose from a section of the ordinance where farm animals were summarily banned from the city limits, added as a bit of afterthought since the topic was never analyzed at even the committee level.  This clashed with Ludington's chicken lobbyists who were actively organized back in 2020 but stymied by the council when they decided not to take the issue up in committee.

Five people spoke up during public comment on this topic.  Joanne Kelly of the Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) program for community cats was curious as to whether a stray cat (or dog) would be considered a 'wild animal' as pertains to the proposed law.  Michael and Cheryl Whitehead would come up separately advocating for allowing chickens to be raised in the city and seemed to believe that the ordinance may have been changed to permit for this (it hadn't).  Jason Hackert, an employee at Tractor Supply Company related that many people from the city were interested when they sell chicks each year, but upset they can't raise them in town.  Nick Genter stated he had three kids in 4-H and lives in town and they are all disappointed that they cannot raise them due to them living in the city.

These comments and others at prior meetings about chickens led to a minor miracle this evening.  Councilor Wally Cain would later admit he had originally been against having any law that would permit chickens in the city, consistent with his usual position of voting for policy that would take away rights from individuals, but had his mind changed over the last two meetings by those speaking up for chickens.  So once the ordinance was introduced, and Councilor Kathy Winczewski suggested that the ordinance should be tabled and sent back to the Public Safety Committee for clarifications (such as those noted by Ms. Kelly), the council decided to divest the chicken issue from the deer feeding ordinance and send that issue over to the Building & Licenses Committee to look into properly. 

That motion would pass, with Councilor John Terzano and Ted May voting no.  Look for the deer feeding ordinance to come back with more definitions and potentially an ordinance allowing regulated raising of chickens in future months.

Five people would also talk about the ordinance contracting with the USDA for a three-year deer cull in the first comment period.  Mark Tennant complained about deer eating his plants and supported a deer cull.  Chuck Sobanski would also and wonder who is responsible for the damage caused by deer.  Terry Grams opposed the deer cull and wondered how the City could spend money on one outside of the city limits (he would be even more litigious afterwards, noting that two of the three places mentioned were outside the city limits).  Cheryl Anderson offered some alternative ways to mitigate the damage done by deer without using a cull, such as the potentially outlawed method of putting cracked corn out.

Breaking the tie among the speakers, I offered my comment suggesting an expensive cull was not needed due to there being deer culls all around us happening at many times during the year, including this last weekend.  

XLFD :  (16:00 in) "Our state government conducts a deer cull every year on multiple occasions, making a substantial profit for itself and providing jobs and income for Michigan businesses.  A 2019 study found that 700,000 Michigan hunters spent $8.9 billion in revenue statewide through purchasing hunting licenses, gear, firearms, hotel rooms and food while hunting.  Nearly 400,000 deer are harvested each year by the state through its wildlife management programs and they do not pay those who harvest the deer anything-- Holy Cow, the volunteer harvesters actually pay the state good money for the opportunity.  

Ludington is set to make the same mistake that many municipalities have made.  Rather than do anything smart, they may choose to go the politically expedient route and do a deer cull, even when culls are taking place all around them.  Consider, the DNR now requires hunters to report any deer harvest as early as possible and they provide that data in real time on a page in their website.  I checked this out on Friday evening and saw that 447 deer had been harvested in Mason County this year.

That's an impressive number at this point being that the most popular firearm season has not occurred.  By this morning, the number had rose to 532, meaning that over the weekend at least 85 deer had been harvested in our county by bowhunters who are not allowed to use bait piles, unlike the unsportsmanlike USDA snipers you are planning to waste our money on.  Deer are nomadic creatures; ones that are killed in Amber or Hamlin Township are ones that may have wandered into Ludington later on.

Thousands of hunters across Mason County will voluntarily harvest thousands of deer in Mason County, all at no cost to the taxpayers; in fact, those hunters will help support our businesses, our local governments, and many will donate their gains to local food banks.  Everyone wins--- if you're not a deer.

The state DNR clarifies that deer populations are up in Mason County precisely because the last five winters have been mild and the number of deer hunters have significantly decreased.  We can't control the weather, but we can encourage our fellow citizens to take up arms and reduce the surplus deer populations without spending $20,000 per year from the community chest on a Quixotic effort. [END comment]

City Manager Mitch Foster would admit that the City of Manistee's last deer cull effort nabbed 17 deer in their city which has less human population and more land area than Ludington.  They decided to ditch future culls when they noticed that it would cost nearly $1000 to the taxpayers to cull each deer at that rate.  When Manistee County hunters kill thousands of deer each year the city's cull was a drop in the bucket of deer mitigation efforts, just like it will be in Ludington.  Why pay for it when a majority of citizens do not support a cull, when you can have people pay for the privilege of hunting, totally voluntarily, and do it on a much larger scale?

I conducted a poll on my Ludington Pitchfork Facebook page asking a yes/no question regarding the deer cull and restricted it to people living in Ludington.  Rather than ask simply whether they approved of a deer cull, I asked:  "In reaction to growing nuisance complaints caused by deer in the Ludington city limits, city officials have put aside $58,500 to conduct a three-year deer cull, pending approval by city council next month. USDA snipers will bait and shoot deer in permissible city areas during the winter, reducing the population of the deer at least temporarily in the city. In your opinion, should the council devote $58,500 to fund the deer cull?"

I received 85 unique responses, 61 saying no.  28% of the poll takers approved of the deer cull when given the cost and brief description of what happens.  Both sides presented petitions to the council; one supporting a deer cull with 100 signatures in the packet, one with over 80 signatures presented to Councilor Cheri Stibitz before the meeting against the deer cull.  Stibitz would give a solid viewpoint when she spoke on this later in the meeting:

Councilor Stibitz:  (51:00 in) "We have discussed several situations last meeting and I want to talk about a few of them again. We know that If we do not attack the deer in great numbers right away, we will not make a dent in the population and will therefore the cull will be pointless and deemed ineffective. Those of us that are hunters also understand that we can see deer on trail cameras and if you hunt in the UP at the bait pile but that means that come November 15 when it is legal to hunt them that they will show up at the right time and the right place. I am very nervous that this is going to happen on our deer cull days. What if only a few deer come into range or worse yet none and then we are back at square zero wondering what to do about the deer in the city.

The ARPA funds are considered granted monies that although is no cost to us today... there is still a cost to us tomorrow. The money is coming from somewhere and will eventually have to be found again from somewhere. Whether its federal, state, or local tax dollars that do it. We all learned in high school economics that there is no such thing as a free lunch and I believe that holds true for this situational also.

We budgeted $50,000 from the ARPA funds to cull the deer. According to this 3-year contract that is up for discussion we are spending 19,500 a year which adds up to 58,500. So, who and how are we paying for the remainder of the monies. As a taxpayer myself I want to spend money on things that are going to FOR SURE work. I like all you work very hard for the things that I have, and I expect us to be frugal with our taxpayer monies instead of throwing them away on unnecessary things that have been proven by other municipalities to not work. I don’t look at this as not doing something about the deer cull but making an educated decision on how to spend your money...Instead of looking at this as a do-nothing approach, we should be thinking about trying other things and considering other options. When one thing doesn’t work, we should try another, and I don’t think this is going to work.

The next agenda item is an item that we will be talking about where there is a ban on feeding deer and other animals. If that passes that is another step towards doing something instead of nothing. It will give us time to see if that works and you know what is cool about that... it’s free and losing your money isn’t at steak. Using ARPA funds for something that isn’t going to work and putting another project on hold (a 50,000 project at that) to help those impacted by COVID relieve seems kind of like a no brainer."  [END]

On the other side, Councilor Ted May and Cain would utter support of the deer cull without giving much of a reason, the only one to offer justification for culls was John Terzano, who offered the Dearborn UM campus effort as a success story for culls.  Yet when one looks at the actual study that Terzano offers as his one concrete example of success, one finds that it's anything but a success story as seen in this deer counts in the target area, where a cull was only done in 2018:

Note that in 2018 the count was rising, but after 15 deer were culled, the population went down to 55.  In the next two successive years the counts would continue decreasing without a cull; the loss in percentage of deer between 2019 and 2020 is much larger than the loss of percentage of deer after the cull!  You don't have to be a statistician to see that something larger than a cull is affecting their counts.  In 2022 they are back up to 86 and will likely do another cull that won't have any lasting effect.

Councilor Les Johnson would express doubts about the costs and liabilities.  Councilor John Bulger would weigh in and say that he had not been convinced to the benefit of a cull and would vote no.  Three for and three against, the final decision would be up to Kathy Winczewski who had made it fairly clear at the prior meeting that she wasn't likely to vote for a deer cull as seen in the minutes:

Something during that two week interval inspired her to approve this $60,000 experiment, for she decided independently of any data from Terzano that culls may work and are worth the costs, and that we can do this for one year and get out of it if it doesn't work-- after saying at the last meeting that the City would have to cull every year forever to make it work.  The cull would pass on a 4-3 vote.

Some interesting things were also reported about this evening;

- the LPD search was down to two candidates, Mark Meyers from Dearborn Heights, and Ryan Myers from Big Rapids.  The last name has apparently been decided upon already.

- excess zinc in a wastewater pond spoiled the biosolid capability for the new contractor hauling it away

- Interim Chief Wietrzykowski introduced Conner Gallihugh and Jared Versluis to the council as part of a new plan to introduce council to newly hired personnel in the future.

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    Just think if our city officials would do the research that XLFD does what a different out come on policy and ordinances we would have . Instead we have a bunch of people who come to a meeting , set up there and vote on what they know nothing about.   We the people voted them in to represent the views of the populous of the city, not the views of 1 or 2 on the council.

Doing research is important and is a necessary thing to do if you are going to vote on something that affects the lives of about 8000 people.  But doing research in itself will not always generate the best policies, as we know that those doing the research will have their own prejudices and political biases.   Consider Councilor Terzano's research he conducted where he summarily found that elephant/rhino/hippo culls in Africa work and were necessary, before looking at a Dearborn study involving culls every three years and considering it a success. 

Unfortunately, Terzano has the political belief that government solutions are better than common sense solutions that involve voluntary and/or cooperative actions of individuals acting on their own interests.  Culling elephants and other big game animals when their populations grow beyond their carrying capacity is expensive and a more complicated process than most African country governments can manage.  If those governments could have wildlife management programs for big game that mirrors what the MI DNR does for deer and wolves in the state, and if their citizens and visitors brought into and followed those policies (like what mostly happens in MI) then culling would be shown to be a very inefficient method in comparison.  

Let me remind Councilor Terzano that elephant culls in Botswana and elsewhere take place in areas far away from human habitations (not in urban interfaces) using helicopters to maneuver whole herds into areas where they are summarily executed.  Far from sporting, just like what will happen in Ludington every year and in Dearborn every three years.  When animal populations grow so as to be a nuisance to humans or the general environment, a responsive government acting responsibly will always look first into what could be changed in the wildlife management programs to encourage hunters to voluntarily solve it before spending a cent on any expensive cull effort.

LL, I'm more of a lover than a hunter, but maybe you missed the last words I spoke during public comment:  "...we can encourage our fellow citizens to take up arms and reduce the surplus deer populations without spending $20,000 per year from the community chest on a Quixotic effort."  Sounds like I have no issue with killing deer, doesn't it?

Hunting and encouraging hunting is the cost-effective way to reduce deer populations, while deer culling is a waste of public money; I cannot see why anybody would be for a deer cull considering the following.  Manistee had two recent culls reportedly nabbing 9 and 16 deer.  When one considers that each licensed hunter in Michigan bags about 0.6 deer each year, one only has to encourage 20 more people in an area to hunt to get a better result than Manistee did. 

If we hired deer cullers to shoot the 600 deer already taken in Mason County during the early hunting seasons, and used Manistee cull ratios, it would have cost us $500,000 to do so.  Instead the state sold more than 1000 deer licenses at $20 or more per and made a cool $20,000 from willing customers, many visitors who spent many thousands in the area and enjoyed their experience.  A lot more cash than some USDA stooges would spend in a couple days work.

My Facebook poll showed over 70% of our citizens do not want to pay for a cull, where outsiders use methods that would be illegal to take down deer.  If you think able-bodied people baiting and spotlighting animals and shooting them with sniper rifles is hunting, like they often do in culling, then you are not a very sportsmanlike hunter, in my opinion. 

     When  money is involved some people will take advantage of the situation. How will we know that any deer are  " culled " from the city limits???/ Shoot one anywhere, bring it into town and bring home the cash . There has to be some accountability on where the deer was shot and killed. 

   No, what I'm saying is that the people assigned to cull the deer in the city cull them in the city. . We all know wild animals roam around to find food and shelter.   Humans building in wooded areas, their home causes them to move out into other areas . Now we have the problem.

I share your concern, stump.  If you listened to the meeting and/or read the contract with the USDA in the packet you would see that the sharpshooters are under no deer quota-- as long as they put in the time and effort, they don't have to bag a single deer while they're here.  

But that would almost certainly get them fired from future consideration in Ludington and in other culls, so I could see unscrupulous federal agents of the USDA fudging numbers if they underperform in their cull up here.  Wouldn't be that difficult to do with their resources.  A city could keep them honest if they had each culler wear a rifle-cam and show that each kill took place here, but I don't see that anywhere in the contract.

If it is to be a true cull, then only adult does should be harvested as this will have the greatest impact on the deer population.

There is certain to be a photo op for publicity purposes of donating the meat to a food bank.

The cost of the meat works out to $22 a pound if they kill 20 animals, that is if they can find someone to process the venison for free.

Or looking at it another way, they will have to harvest 450 deer to equal $20,000 worth of ground meat. It would make more sense to donate $20,000 directly to a food bank.

The average deer will net you 52.19 lb. of meat after proper processing, the going rate for processing is typically $125 to $200, so let's say one of our local butchers will do 20 deer for the volume discount price of $100 per, or $2000 total.  $19,500 + $2000/(20 X 52.19 lb.) = $20.60/lb. would be the true cost of the deer meat from Ludington's cull.  Your estimation and my calculation is pretty close to the price Manistee paid in their two years.

Let's compare a local deer hunter's costs.  Let's say they buy a $20 license and bag themselves 0.57 of a deer (their expected harvest from the stats).  If they can harvest the deer properly, you're looking at about 30 lb. of meat.  That's less than a dollar/pound (even if they had a lot of missed shots and you're counting ammo) along with the thrilling experience of the hunt they will always have for their memories.


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