Farmington Hills has scheduled an education seminar to address the city’s growing deer population.

Farmington Hills has scheduled an education seminar to address the city’s growing deer population.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Farmington Hills takes steps to adopt a deer management plan

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published September 2, 2021

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FARMINGTON HILLS — For many people in Michigan, urban cities aren’t likely the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of large deer populations.

However, northern Michigan isn’t the only part of the state where deer can be found, which is something Farmington Hills residents can attest to.

In fact, the presence of deer in the city has become a large enough issue to be one of the agenda items for discussion at a Farmington Hills City Council meeting Aug. 9, where a “recommended adoption of a resolution seeking the establishment of a regional urban deer management plan for Oakland County” was put forth.

At the meeting it was unanimously resolved that Farmington Hills support a “collaborative regional solution for the health and safety of its citizens, their property and the deer herd in Oakland County.”

Part of the draft from the Aug. 9 meeting states that based on aerial counts, it is believed that Farmington Hills has a concentrated deer population of up to 80 deer per square mile, with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources characterizing a healthy deer population as 20 or fewer deer per square mile.

The draft also states that according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, Oakland County has consistently led the state in the number of car/deer crashes, totaling roughly 2,000 per year.

According to information sent by Farmington Hills Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Boleware, as of Feb. 12, 2020, the deer population in the city was reported to be 729, which was an increase of more than 300 from the year prior.

Boleware said that deer management is a “high priority,” but that there is nothing specific in place to deal with the issue.

“This is not a new subject; we’ve been talking about this since the last couple of years that I’ve been on council,” she said. “We were making some progress back (in) November and December of 2019, and then the pandemic came and undercut that movement. And now, we’re back to the point where we know that something has to be done because it’s eating so much of the vegetation that’s crucial for some of the environment and for the butterflies.”

Farmington Hills Mayor Vicki Barnett discussed some of the other issues that have arisen as a result of deer roaming the city.

“When they eat all of the plants that they’re eating, they clear-cut the ground cover, and that now opens up the prey that lives in the ground cover — small squirrels, chipmunks and possum — to attacks by coyotes, so our coyote population is growing as well because predators are moving in to take advantage of the clear-cut areas,” she said. “And it’s changing the biosphere, and the balance of the biosphere. That’s probably one of the biggest issues here. How do we deal with deer management in a fairly urban community, and how do we do it well?”

Figuring out how to do it well could take some time.

“I don’t have a solution yet. I don’t think any of us on council have a solution,” Barnett said. “We’re in the studying phase of seeing what would be the most appropriate solution to the problem, if there is one, and then proceed from there.”

Boleware said that the next step for the council is to “become educated on the entire situation,” and an Urban Deer Management Education Seminar set to take place Sept. 21 at The Hawk – Farmington Hills’ Community Center — can help accomplish just that.

According to a press release from the city of Farmington Hills, a guest speaker from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will address issues related to the growing deer population in the area, with potential topics including deer/vehicle crashes, ticks and lyme disease, property destruction, and pet health and safety.

The release further states that a proposed inter-governmental resolution, possible action plans, and urban deer management initiatives for Oakland County will be discussed.

All members of the public, including non-Farmington Hills residents, are invited to attend.

For more information, contact Deputy Special Services Director Bryan Farmer at bfarmer@fhgov.com.

Health concerns relating to deer have also been on Barnett’s mind.

“You have some disease issues — deer ticks, chronic wasting disease and other deer-born pathogens that can infect humans,” she said.

From Boleware’s perspective, deer management is an issue that has been going on for years with “no action that’s been taken.”

“This is something that we can’t keep pushing down the road, because that’s the No. 1 complaint,” she said. “If you look in some of our parks, like Heritage Park, you’ll notice that the deer (eat) everything that’s possible to eat, and it’s impacting our ecosystem.”

Barnett wants the potential solution to a deer management problem to extend beyond Farmington Hills’ borders.

“It’s got to be a county-wide or regional approach to deer management, because we’re talking about animals that travel; they don’t see city boundaries,” she said. “We have to make sure that what we come up with is workable for the region, and I don’t think we’ve ever looked at this on a regional basis to the extent that we need to.”

Boleware said Farmington Hills has reached out to surrounding areas regarding a deer management program.

“We’ve reached out to Southfield, West Bloomfield, Novi, and, I believe, Livonia,” she said.

Of the various options that have been suggested for how to manage the deer population, Farmington Hills Council member Ken Massey said he is not satisfied with the “only option” the DNR has been pushing for, which is to kill them.

One of the options he thinks should be considered is a “contraceptive treatment.”

“There are injectables that result in decreased fertility or prevention of ovulation, et cetera, that at least should be discussed,” Massey said. “Instead of shooting them with a gun to kill, shoot them with a tranquilizer. … Instead of injecting a compound to tranquilize them, inject them with the contraceptive material.”

Massey said that by training he is a scientist, with his doctoral training being in cardiovascular pathophysiology.

“That’s what I do for a living,” he said.

Massey said he teaches at Wayne State University.

“In fact, I just finished teaching pharmacology this morning to the medical students,” he said.

Barnett shared a similar viewpoint.

“If there is a birth control available for the does, it would make sense if it’s a multi-year solution, to try to go that route rather than just culling the herd, which can be a rather nasty process,” she said.

Massey said that there was a survey about the deer population when he was mayor a “couple of years ago.”

“It was a very high return,” he said. “The vast majority said, ‘There’s a problem with deer in certain areas, and we want you to do something,’ but about 75% of those said, ‘but don’t kill them. … Tranquilize them, catch them, move them to another place, do these other things.’ So, people are sensitive to that, and I (want to) be sensitive to it. I want information before I agree to what route we should take.”

One of the options that has come up is sterilization, and it is one Massey is not a proponent of.

“Ann Arbor used a surgical sterilization approach, but you’re talking about a wild animal and an invasive procedure,” he said. “Ultimately, they ended up with infections. A (fast) death is better than a slow death. … So, that surgical option gets taken off the table.”

Barnett is also not a supporter of a sterilization option.

“Ann Arbor tried to sterilize their deer population, and it was quite messy and not the direction that we (want to) go in at all,” she said.

As for capturing deer and taking them somewhere that’s “far away,” Boleware said she thinks that would be a “difficult process to execute.”

Whatever option is decided on, Massey shared his opinion about where the money to pay for it is likely to come from.

“No matter what we do, whether or not it’s a cull, or if it’s utilizing newer technologies. … The bottom line is it comes down to the taxpayers, and the city of Farmington Hills will be responsible for doing whatever we do in Farmington Hills,” he said.

Despite the city potentially having to foot its own bill, Massey recognizes that a deer management problem is not exclusive to Farmington Hills.

“The city of Novi, the city of Livonia, West Bloomfield Township, Southfield, we all share the same problems,” he said. “It is a regional issue because our environment supports the deer population; we’ve got a lot (of) food for them, and no natural enemies. … Whether or not that means all the cities do it at the same time, what have you, it’ll become a regional approach.”

Barnett said that the deer population has been an issue in Farmington Hills for quite a while, and that it’s “worse now than it’s ever been.”

“It really became an issue in the late ‘90s as the human population started to explode in this part of Oakland County and take the habitat of the deer away from them,” she said. “Farmington Hills, we’re a beautiful city. We have a lot of green space with a lot of forested areas, and that’s where the deer are multiplying. … From the freeway to 10 Mile Road south, and from Middlebelt into Southfield, at about Telegraph, the deer population is very large.”

Boleware thinks 11 Mile Road and Drake is another area where deer can be found.

Despite how “beautiful” they are, Barnett is in favor of managing Farmington Hills’ deer population.

“We love to look at them and watch them, but at some point when they begin to affect the health, safety and welfare of the community at large, and the biosphere, we have to take a look at, how do we start to manage the wildlife?” she said.

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