A deer rests in the snow at a park in Rochester Hills last week.

A deer rests in the snow at a park in Rochester Hills last week.

Photo provided by the Rochester Hills Department of Natural Resources

Naturalist gives tips on how to deal with ‘wild neighbors’

Deer, coyotes top complaint list

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published December 5, 2018


ROCHESTER HILLS — Rochester Hills naturalist Lance DeVoe fields calls from residents daily about the wide array of wildlife in the city, including deer and coyotes.

To address the challenges that residents face living with local wildlife, DeVoe, along with the city’s outdoor interpreter, Lauren Oxlade, held the city’s first “Learning to Coexist with Our Wild Neighbors” program Nov. 30 at Rochester Hills City Hall.

“Deer, by far, have become the most difficult wildlife problem in our city,” DeVoe said during the presentation. “I keep thinking that there has to be a correction at some point, because our city is not what I would call an ideal white-tailed deer habitat, and it shouldn’t be able to keep as many deer as we have here healthy, but unfortunately, that correction hasn’t happened yet.”

Anytime there’s an overabundance of deer in a suburban area, the risk for deer-related car crashes increases. Although Rochester Hills saw a slight dip in deer-related car crashes last year, dropping from 176 in 2016 to 161 in 2017, DeVoe said the city still leads the state in deer-related car accidents.

“There’s car-deer accidents everywhere in the city. It’s all over,” he said. “And we know that there’s a significant number of car-deer accidents that don’t get reported.”

Tienken Road has historically led the city’s roads as far as the number of deer-related car accidents, followed by Avon and Adams roads, and Walton Boulevard. If a deer dies on a road governed by the Road Commission for Oakland County, DeVoe said, the animal is picked up by the county; if it dies on a city road, it’s picked up by the city’s Department of Public Services; if it dies on public property, it’s picked up by the city’s Natural Resources Department to be delivered to the DPS.

“There are deer being dropped off at our Department of Public Services virtually every day,” DeVoe explained.

An overabundance of deer can also wreak havoc in parks and neighborhoods by reducing vegetation, particularly native plants, thus reducing food and shelter for other animals and also damaging landscaping.

Repellents — such as Liquid Fence, Deer Away — can help discourage deer from entering property, according to DeVoe.

“Some of them do work if you’re persistent and diligent enough with applying them after it rains and after a heavy dew,” he said. “You can deter (deer) to some extent. It just takes a lot of effort.”

DeVoe also suggests that people scare deer away when they come to their yard and removing the vegetation they like to eat from the landscaping. He said a list of plants that deer seldom eat is available on the city’s website.

“We’re not trying to encourage more deer, and feeding them helps to keep that population abnormally high,” he said.

Angel Bakos, who lives in Rochester Hills and attended the program, said many of her neighbors encourage deer to come to their property by intentionally feeding them.

“I have lived in two places where I’ve had neighbors who will not listen if you tell them about what they are causing. They just like the deer and they want to encourage them to come to their property,” Bakos said.

DeVoe said the most important thing to tell people who insist on feeding deer is that it’s actually bad for the deer.

“We don’t want them to be habituated to people. Wild animals are supposed to be wild, and we have a responsibility to keep them that way,” he said.

Bakos said the city should provide more community outreach to residents to help curb the problem.

“My thinking is that we need to do more education. More posters, more advertising in different ways, because they don’t seem to understand that they’re creating a problem,” she said.

In 2009, the city created the Deer Management Advisory Committee to review deer-related car crash statistics as well as the city’s annual deer count surveys, and to make recommendations regarding the overpopulation of deer.

Each year, the city allocates approximately $10,400 to the committee, and an additional $1,800 will be spent this year to keep temporary deer caution signs up through the end of December.

The committee’s additional awareness efforts currently include organizing deer gardening programs, publishing educational materials and direct mail communications, and more to keep residents vigilant.

The city’s Natural Resources Department also receives a fair number of complaints and questions about coyotes.

“Pretty much all corners of Rochester Hills have seen coyotes at one time or another,” DeVoe said. “They’re a little bit different to deal with because they are the top predator in this area.”

Although coyotes found in suburban areas are mainly nocturnal, DeVoe said they can often be spotted during the day.

“People get nervous because they see a coyote go through their yard, but it’s not unusual for them to be out in the daylight,” he said.

Coyotes, according to DeVoe, don’t like cats or dogs because they don’t differentiate between a pet and any other predator they think is going to be in competition for their food.

“Most of the time — and it’s especially true in Rochester Hills — in the reports of dogs that have been attacked, they don’t kill the dog, they just are trying to run them out of what they consider to be their territory. They’ll bite it and chase it and nip at it, but I don’t know of any that have been killed. I know of probably 10 that have been attacked by coyotes and cats that have disappeared, because for some reason they do kill the cats,” he said.

Coyotes, DeVoe explained, often exhibit strange behavior because they’re curious animals.

“I had one follow me while I was walking my dog on the Clinton River Trail, and I kept looking back, and the coyote kept going back and forth across the trail, getting a little bit closer. It was like he was stalking my dog, so when he disappeared into the brush I turned around and ran back to the spot where he disappeared, and when he popped up again we were face to face, and he turned around and took off running. So you can scare them away. You just have to be willing to do it,” he said.

DeVoe suggests accompanying your pets anytime they go outside and trying to scare coyotes away from your yard if you do happen to see one.

“We have this coyote shaker that’s just an aluminum can with pennies in it, wrapped in tin foil, so it’s bright. You can throw it at them. You can yell at them. You can run at them,” he said. “If we continue to let animals dictate our behavior, then we’re never going to change their behavior.”

To learn more about deer, visit rochesterhills.org/deer or call (248) 656-4673.

For more information on other wildlife, call the city at (248) 656-4775 or visit the city’s website at www.rochesterhills.org and click on the “Parks and Natural Resources” tab, then on “Outdoor Engagement.”