By Scott Sullivan
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Douglas, the city has released results of a deer survey showing Bambis have some residents bamboozled.
Questionnaires sent 1,360 residents on winter tax bills and returned by 175, 13 percent, by the Valentine’s Day deadline showed deer, seen often within city limits, cause concerns such as:
• Vehicle accidents,
• Damage to personal landscapes and garden plants,
• Damaging park ecosystems by over-browsing of native forage plants, and
• Transmitting diseases to humans.
Eighty-seven percent of respondents, city manager Rich LaBombard summarized Monday for city council, have had garden plants or landscaping damaged. Those who used odor and taste repellents or deer-resistant plants found them somewhat effective, he continued.
Residents strongly support enforcing state regulations, prohibiting supplemental feeding of deer by residents, and use some control method to slow population growth, LaBombard said.
Of note: 139 of 179 respondents said they saw deer in Douglas “all the time,” another 30 said “often.”
How many deer did they see in a typical week? 105 said 11 or more, 32 seven to 10, 23 four to six, 12 one to three and three people said none.
Resident reactions to deer were mixed: 30 said they enjoyed seeing and having deer, 80 they like seeing a few deer but worry about problems they cause, 60 said they generally regard deer as a nuisance and one had no feeling about their presence.
Deer-vehicle collisions were concerns for 134 respondents. Next most common was personal landscape damage (131), decline in deer health due to overpopulation (96), damage to park ecosystems (93), disease transmission (77), no concern (16) and others (15).
How best to respond? Enforce state regulations banning humans from feeding deer drew the strongest response.
Next came: use nonlethal methods, like birth control, to reduce populations; use methods such as hunting; manage roadside vegetation to increase driver visibility; educate residents on deer-resistant plants; and install signs or reflector at deer crossings.
“Do nothing and let nature take its course” was least-favored among choices offered.
Deer concerns are not new to Douglas. In February 2021 council considered forming a wildlife advisory council to weigh ways to manage those populations. A report 10 months later a report from then public works head Matt Vogel advised on an average day it is not unusual to see 20 to 30 deer throughout the city, drawn by abundant food sources which include private gardens.
Want to deter deer from chowing down on your yard and garden? Vogel recommended:
1) Don’t feed them. In Michigan’s Lower Peninsula doing so is illegal due to chronic waste disease spread.
• Feeding birds is acceptable, but only fill feeders with amounts birds can eat in a few days. This will prevent deer from using them as a food supplement.
• Residential flower and vegetable gardens are like a salad bar for deer. Great food with easy access.
2) Install plants and bushes deer don’t like to eat. Such plants can be easily found via online search. “These plants and bushes give the deer an upset stomach and they won’t return to eat the plants again,” Vogel said.
3) Culling (or hunting deer within city limits, he went on, is the final resort. Through this process the city must have the Michigan Department of Natural Resources conduct a study to calculate the number of deer per acre. The first inventory would cost about $20,000.
“The best practice to start with,” Vogel concluded, “is to educate the public about planting different vegetation that deters deer and no supplemental feeding.
“This would be the cheapest and best long-term goal for the deer issue here,” he said.
By Scott Sullivan