The Oakland County Community Deer Coalition is conducting a survey to collect data from residents on the deer population, which has “steadily increased” in some Oakland County communities.
METRO DETROIT – Several local communities have stepped forward to try to figure out what to do about the large number of deer roaming the area.
To address concerns, the Oakland County Community Deer Coalition was formed in 2021 by a group of leaders from nine Oakland County communities, according to a news release.
The release says that in recent years the deer population has steadily increased throughout Oakland County, resulting in an increase in deer-related car accidents, damage to landscaping and private property, and greater potential for Lyme disease and other illnesses that can be carried by deer.
Farmington, Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield, Auburn Hills, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Franklin, Rochester Hills and Southfield are all part of the coalition.
According to the release, over the past few years, cities and townships in Oakland County have received an increasing number of calls and emails from concerned residents.
The coalition recently partnered with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, also known as SEMCOG, to find a regional solution to address the deer population.
The coalition also worked with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to try to formulate a regional plan.
Farmington Hills Deputy City Manager Joe Valentine said Farmington and Farmington Hills were the first communities to endorse a coalition.
In recent years, Farmington Hills has used helicopters to try to determine the number of deer in its town.
According to statistics provided by Valentine, earlier this year, 521 deer were counted in the Farmington and Farmington Hills area.
Last year, 729 were reported, which is an increase from the 370 reported in 2019.
No aerial counts were conducted in 2020.
As a first step in the process of trying to identify a solution, the coalition is conducting a survey of Oakland County residents and business owners to gather data.
Valentine and Farmington Hills Assistant Director of Special Services Bryan Farmer represent Farmington Hills as part of the coalition.
“The first step in this process is engaging the public to gather the data on the concerns…and then trying to work out solutions from there,” Valentine said. “That’s why we are publishing the survey (and) working with SEMCOG – recognizing that this is a regional issue; it’s not just a local problem. There’s no real solution for us right now, so by getting the coalition to work together and working with the state, bringing in the DNR, (we’re trying) to identify the best solution for the future , once we have a clear idea of all the concerns we hear in the region.
The survey can be completed through November 11 by visiting cobaltcommunityresearch.org/deer.html.
West Bloomfield is the only township among the communities that is part of the coalition, and it is represented by supervisor Steven Kaplan.
“We have 68,000 residents in West Bloomfield, (and) maybe 25 have contacted the township. A majority of them are in favor of removing the deer one way or another,” Kaplan said. “The complaints expressed by our residents relate to one or two issues – one or both. …One would be (that) deer trample vegetable gardens and flowers in back and front yards, and the second is the possibility of a serious motor vehicle collision between a vehicle and a deer.
The SEMCOG website tracks deer accidents in the area. According to his statistics, between 2017 and 2021, 434 vehicular accidents involving deer were reported in West Bloomfield, with none fatal and one rated as serious.
During the same period, 555 deer-vehicle accidents were reported in Farmington Hills, with no fatalities and two reported as serious.
There have been 25 collisions between deer and vehicles in Farmington, with no injuries reported.
“Oakland County has the highest number of car-deer accidents in the state of Michigan,” Valentine said. “If you think about it, it’s kind of a unique situation. When you think of Oakland County, you don’t think of the deer; you would think that northern Michigan or UP would have a large deer population to support.
Despite this, Valentine said, “We have plenty of deer habitat in our area.”
“In the northern part of the state, there are a lot more properties so the deer don’t have these interactions with traffic as much because there are fewer roads, less density, and you still might have a large population of deer, but because of fewer roads and less density, you don’t have the concern that you see in urban communities or even suburban communities,” Valentine said. “We are trying to come up with a plan that will address the unique environment that we have in these urban and suburban communities that deal with (the) large deer population. … These river corridors and greenway corridors allow them to cross safely … and they have all the vegetation in the houses that they can use to sustain themselves and stay healthy.
Kevin Vettraino is SEMCOG’s Director of Planning. He believes the statistics do not fully represent the number of actual deer-vehicle accidents that occur in the area.
“We mostly track (by) crashes, and we know they’re generally underrepresented, because if you hit a deer. …if very little damage is done, it often goes unreported,” he said.
Chad Stewart is a deer management biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He discussed the role of the DNR with the coalition.
“We’re here primarily in an advisory capacity, just to help, in terms of process, or to provide an understanding of state requirements, and then any other input needed while they work on that,” Stewart said.
Stewart called the coalition that was created a “revolutionary effort”.
“The county coalition that we’ve worked with and (which) has been put together so far, I don’t know of any other community group that’s doing something similar, so I think it’s innovative; I think that’s a great way to approach it,” he said. “I’m excited to…continue to work with them to see how their progress progresses.”
Kaplan shared his thoughts on some of the reasons deer are drawn to the area.
“The first is that there are well-meaning people, landowners, who leave food for deer; and a deer has a good memory. A deer will remember who fed it, and that can cause deer to congregate in a particular neighborhood,” he said. “But then when roads are built, when more roads are built, it takes away space where deer can gallop…and it forces them into residences – housing estates.”
Vettraino shared the type of information that can be obtained from the survey.
“In the questions asked, you’ll be able to provide a postcode, where we can get a better idea of where in the area we’re seeing more dating; so that’s part of the investigation,” he said. “The other part is, usually, getting a feeling from those involved in the survey – do they like seeing the deer? (In) some cases they do. … It’s part of that mix between rural life and city life…. Is that their feeling about it, or have they had different instances where they feel it more on the nuisance side, (whether it’s) an accident, aggressive behavior or interactions with pets – landscaping?
Vettraino discussed the importance of residents taking the time to complete the survey.
“Before making recommendations through a plan or policies, we want to get that voice from residents,” he said. “That’s another reason why it’s important for people to complete the survey, to better represent how to move forward.”
Potential solutions that were discussed by community members included finding a way to move the deer to a more suitable part of the state, mixing the food with contraceptives so the female deer couldn’t to impregnate, to do nothing or to cut them down.
“No solution is considered until we have the data to solve the problems we (want) to solve,” Valentine said. “Once the coalition has the data, after Nov. 11, they will begin working with the DNR to drill down into areas of concern and then begin to assess alternatives on how to address those concerns.”
Stewart shared a similar sentiment.
“I think it’s too early to say anything,” he said. “The next step is probably to come up with a plan. … I think it’s important to understand what each community is facing, maybe some of the challenges — whether it’s damage to the landscape, collisions between deer and vehicles; and from there you can customize your management approach to try to solve the problems of each community, in particular. »
Kaplan reflected on what he hopes the coalition can accomplish.
“Ideally, the coalition would find a cure where the deer population would be significantly reduced, but not totally. … Without being inhuman,” he said. “In other words, no one is suggesting that a city hire a paratroop group (to) put out the deer. No one would suggest that.
From Stewart’s perspective, a regional approach may be the only way to effectively address the deer population problem.
“The problem that I think a lot of communities in Oakland County have is that so many of these communities are adjacent to each other,” he said. “They really have to be on the same page, in terms of management approach or management decisions, because a community that is on its own trying to solve a problem may not have much impact because the three surrounding communities have decided not to pursue any type of deer management, and now, because deer don’t recognize city limits, they will continue to move between communities, between cities. They may not have the full experience or benefits of the management program if other communities are not also involved.
Valentine doesn’t expect an overnight solution to a problem that’s been going on for years.
“We understand that this process is not the fastest to develop solutions,” he said. “Our intention is to have a lasting impact with the solutions we would develop. …He’s trying to take the science part of what’s needed to have a lasting impact on this problem, rather than just providing a solution for a year. … The coalition is now starting to grow into a regional entity that I think can make real differences in the future that we didn’t have before.