Royal Oak man issued warrant for violent threats in deer cull

Cull canceled at Kensington Metropark

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published March 10, 2021


ROYAL OAK — After an investigation into threats of violence against Huron-Clinton Metroparks police officers made via a phone call to the administration office, the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office issued a misdemeanor warrant to a 71-year-old Royal Oak man Feb. 23.

Authorities canceled the deer cull scheduled at Kensington Metropark in Milford the next day in response to the threats, which they deemed credible.

The charge is malicious use of a telecommunications service, which is punishable by six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. The case will be heard in the 53rd District Court in Howell after the suspect turns himself in.

Michael Reese, chief of the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority Police Department, said that while the department has received letters and communications from the public against the culling of deer in the park system, he had not experienced anything that amounted to a crime in his five years as police chief.

He said a receptionist at the Metroparks administration office received a call on Feb. 3, the day before the deer cull program was supposed to start at Kensington Metropark, from an unknown man.

“He voiced his feelings and opinions regarding our deer management program, specifically the deer cull scheduled to begin on the fourth,” Reese said. “He was somewhat upset about our tactics and felt there were other ways to handle the issue.

“He then went on to say that he was going to shoot the officers, and he’d be in the woods (shooting) the officers when they’d be shooting the deer,” he continued. “Officers investigated the phone call. I can’t go into how we were able to trace the call (as the investigation is still open), but we were able to identify where the phone call came from.”

Reese said he takes threats of violence against the Metroparks police officers seriously.

“This threat being credible, we will prosecute and take it to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Metroparks Director Amy McMillan said the park system is committed to both “transparency and respectful dialogue,” but violent threats cross the line.

“We respect that some have strong feelings about this wildlife management decision and always encourage feedback and two-way dialogue, but we can’t stand by when threats of violence endanger park staff, visitors or community,” McMillan said in a prepared statement.

Kensington Metropark’s deer population has grown beyond the recommended carrying capacity of the 4,500-acre natural habitat, but authorities did not request a permit extension beyond the Feb. 28 end date for the cull due to deer gestational cycles, according to a Metroparks press release.

The deer management program was completed as planned at the adjoined Oakwoods/Willow Metroparks in New Boston from 4 p.m. to midnight Feb. 25, according to the release.

Tyler Mitchell, chief of natural resources for the Metroparks, said the deer management program began in 1999 in response to a decline in the overall health of the deer herds and the loss of over 70 species of native plants within the system’s 13 parks.

According to the release, third-party wildlife biology experts completed health studies on the Metroparks deer populations and concluded that, “data indicates herd stress due to lack of nutrition.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recommends a deer population density of 15-20 deer per square mile to maintain a healthy balance between herbivores and native plants.

Aerial surveys led to an estimated herd of 210 deer in the 5.1-square-mile Oakwoods/Willow Metroparks and an estimated herd of 120 deer in the 5.1-square-mile Kensington Metropark.

“Metroparks intended to reduce the herd at Oakwoods and Willow by 58 deer and harvested a total of 51 deer. Metroparks intended to reduce the herd at Kensington by 43 deer and the cull did not take place,” the release states. “Deer tend to proliferate at these parks due to multiple factors, including a lack of natural predators, surrounding agricultural settings and reduced hunting activity in the immediate area.”

Mitchell said all harvested deer will be processed for meat and donated to local food banks to help feed hungry families across southeast Michigan.

Reese said that the Metroparks police force is trained in the deer cull process.

“We close the park in the afternoon, and the cull takes place in the evening,” he said. “Officers make sure the park is clear, and officers are positioned at all entrances to the park.”

According to the release, McMillan directed the Metroparks Natural Resources Division to conduct a comprehensive review of best practices and alternative methods across the state and country — the study will be completed by the end of 2021 and made publicly available.

“We want to regularly assess and continually ensure the Metroparks is doing everything possible to humanely address overpopulation and ensure a healthy, thriving deer population that also sustains our diverse flora and fauna that play a role in sustaining the entire ecosystem,” she said in a prepared statement.