1 Sister Lake and Stormwater–Moving Ahead For Water Quality

1st Sister Lake. (Source)

1st Sister Lake. (Source)

1st Sister Lake is a delightful lake on the west side of town and a real gem for birders and nature lovers. Sadly, stormwater runoff from the neighborhood has been one of the factors speeding eutrophication of the lake.

This is an old issue, and while taking steps like shifting from on-street leaf pickup to bagged leaf pickup has helped somewhat, the concern remains.

Thanks to the consistent efforts of neighborhood activists like Lenny Kafka and Scott Rosencrans who have brought the issue up to council members, the Parks Advisory Commission, and and others, last year the City did a review of a decades-old study of ways to mitigate the problem in light of current best management practices.

Out of that, in the proposed FY17 budget, there is currently $225,000 proposed as a capital project to make some of the changes. (You have to scroll all the way down to page 335 to see the listing.)

There’s a little more detail in the Capital Improvements Plan, stormwater section, page 30.

So, long story short, if all goes according to plan, we will have taken specific, concrete steps to improve water quality in First Sister Lake and to protect this City treasure.

Chat with Chuck office hours

What’s on your mind? You can always email me at [email protected] or call 734-972-8304. In addition I’ve scheduled the following “Chat with Chuck” office hours:

  • Tuesday, June 28, 4:00-6:00pm, Arbor brewing Company, 114 E. Washington
  • Wednesday, July 27, 9-10am, Arbor Farms Market in the Cafe, 2103 W. Stadium
  • Tuesday, August 9, 4:00-6:00pm, Wolverine State Brewing Company, 2019 W. Stadium NOTE NEW TIME

What’s the Deal with Dioxane?

Make your voice heard by attending the town hall meeting with Keith Creagh, acting director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on April 18, 6-8:30 p.m. inside the auditorium at Eberwhite Elementary School, 800 Soule Blvd.

Make your voice heard by attending the town hall meeting with Keith Creagh, acting director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on April 18, 6-8:30 p.m. inside the auditorium at Eberwhite Elementary School, 800 Soule Blvd.

A brief history: 1,4 dioxane is an industrial solvent that was used by Gelman Sciences in the manufacture of medical filters. According to the EPA, dioxane is a carcinogen. Gelman disposed of the solvent by spraying it on the ground, storing it in lagoons, and injecting it into the ground. This has led to the contamination of many people’s wells and concerns about the long-term risk to Ann Arbor’s drinking water.

There is currently  no 1,4 dioxane in Ann Arbor Water. We regularly test for dioxane in our water supply using highly-sensitive tests. It has not shown up. Several years ago one of our supply wells was contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, and the City took that well out of service, even though the level of dioxane was below the state and federal standards. Continue reading

MLive Litter

4 pieces of fresh #MLiveLitter on just one plot and one more next door)

4 pieces of fresh #MLiveLitter on just one plot and one more next door)

I try to spend most of my time on Council addressing constituent service and the big issues facing the city, things like transportation infrastructure and safety, affordable housing, and environmental protection.

But there’s a pet peeve of mine that I’ve turned into a pet project. I call it #MLiveLitter.

MLive produces an advertising circular and events listing that they distribute for free throughout the community. If people want it, I’m fine with that (I have yet to have anyone tell me they want it).

But here’s the problem, since most people don’t want it, the papers end up as litter. Often, the papers pile up in driveways and yards. If they didn’t want the first one (or 2 or 3), that should be a signal not to deliver any more.

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I count four pieces of #MLiveLitter in various stages of decay at this site.

I count four pieces of #MLiveLitter in various stages of decay at this site.

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There they are left to disintegrate into a pulp, and eventually wash away to pollute our waterways.

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Sometimes they are left right in the middle of the road (hint to Mlive, nobody lives in the middle of the road).

Even though it's hard to see the #MLiveLitter here, this is one of my favorite examples. The advertising circular was delivered to the planting island on Duncan. No humans live there, was it for the apple tree?

Even though it’s hard to see the #MLiveLitter here, this is one of my favorite examples. The advertising circular was delivered to the planting island on Duncan. No humans live there, was it for the apple tree?

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I’m not alone in my frustration. A recent poster to NextDoor reported:

I’ve asked them to stop as well, no joy. They keep dumping them. A couple times I’ve caught them throwing them out by my mailbox. The story from the deliverers is they don’t have a list of ‘do not delivers’, their only instruction is to deliver them to every house.

Why is this a problem:

  • It’s unsightly. Piles of litter in our streets and neighborhoods degrade the asthetics of our community.
  • 20150517_092216

    This paper was delivered to the house of a neighbor after she had moved out, cancelled her subscription to the News, and her family had contacted MLive to cease delivery of their advertising circular.

    It’s dangerous. While there are piles of #MLiveLitter at some occupied homes, it can also be a cue to potential thieves that a home is unoccupied. I’ve seen the circulars delivered even after someone moves out, cancels their paper delivery, and asks repeatedly for the paper not to be delivered to the vacant house.

  • It increases flooding risk: newspapers that are delivered to the street often end up in our storm drains, where they can block the drain and contribute to flooding risk in large rainstorms.
  • It’s illegal. Chapter 82 of the Ann Arbor code of ordinances states, “No person shall throw or deposit any handbill or newspaper upon any sidewalk, street, park or other public place except for drop-off distribution points for newspapers to be delivered the same day as distributed.” So, all those pictures of newspapers on the streets and sidewalks? It was illegal to deliver them there (though a very low priority for enforcement).
  • It’s bad for the environment. According to the LA County Department of Public Works:

    Plastic bags are difficult and costly to recycle and most end up on landfill sites where they take around 300 years to photodegrade. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them.

What can be done?

In May of 2015 I met with representatives of the firm that distributes the Mlive advertising circular to request:

  • Improved opt-out compliance: A perennial complaint is that households opt-out of the paper, but that request is not honored. To that end, I requested:
    • Improved procedures for processing opt-outs
    • Allowing people to post a “Please don’t deliver” sign at their property as an opt-out
    • Requiring clear-to-understand opt-out instructions visible without opening package
  • No Paper Pileup Policy
    • Require that when delivery people observe 2 circulars already present, they don’t deliver a 3rd and either put that address on the “do not deliver” list for 1 year or get explicit opt-in permission from the resident to re-deliver the paper.
  • 3rd party opt-out: 
    • As a neighbor, I see which properties never pick up their circulars. I should have the opportunity to report such properties and have them placed on the do not deliver list for one year or until the company gets explicit opt-in permission from the resident to re-deliver the paper. A2FixIt should be a tool to deliver this feedback.
  • Require compostable packaging
    • bags that the circulars are delivered in should be able to compost in a natural environment. Many compostable materials require the high temperatures of municipal compost systems–temperatures that won’t be reached in storm drain. Therefore, teh bags should comply with backyard compostable standard such as Vinçotte
OK
Compost
HOME.

At that meeting, I was told that the organization would establish policies that would address the major concerns.

These policies have not yet arrived.

At this time, I am reviewing options to amend our City regulations regarding newspaper and handbill distribution. In the meantime, you can:

  • Report unwanted deliveries to [email protected]
  • Help document the problem. Take a picture of egregious problems and email them to me at [email protected] Also consider posting them to social media and tagging @Mlive and using the hashtag #MliveLitter
  • Email [email protected] and ask them to change their delivery policies so they stop delivering advertising circulars to roads and sidewalks and stop delivering them when previous weeks’ copies haven’t been picked up.

Ensuring public participation during religious holidays

To ensure that City Council meetings are accessible to people observing major religious holidays I will be proposing the following rule at the December 7 City Council meeting. It’s not perfect–the decision of where to set lines about major holiday and significant portion of the population is inherently tricky–but I hope it will be a step forward in terms of setting clear expectations for how we set our calendar.

———

RULE 3 ‐ Time and place of Council Meetings
Council shall establish a calendar of the time and place of regular meetings of Ann Arbor City Council by the third regular Council meeting after the general election.

Regular meetings of the Ann Arbor City Council shall be held on the first and third Monday of the month at 7:00 p.m., in the Council Chamber at City Hall, with exceptions as defined below:

  • When the first or third Monday is a major holiday, in which case the meeting shall be held the next secular day (Tuesday), or a later day that same week as set by Council.
  • When the first or third Monday precedes an election day, in which case it will be held on Thursday of that week.
  • When Council Chambers at City Hall are unavailable due to construction or other reasons, Council Meetings shall be re-located to another suitable location.
  • For the purpose of this rule, major holiday shall be defined as:
    • any civic holiday observed by the City of Ann Arbor, or
    • any major religious holiday observed by more than 2.5% of Ann Arbor residents (as reported on City-Data.com or other appropriate survey) and that precludes civic participation from adherents.

Snow removal thoughts

At tonight’s City Council meeting we have a proposed change to our snow removal ordinance.

There are multiple goals that we are trying to manage here. On the one hand, we clearly want sidewalks that allow safe passage for all users after snowfall. We also need to consider the demands on residents and property owners. Can someone working a 12-hour shift reasonably comply? Can someone who is elderly, has a disability, or is low income?

To that end, the draft amendment that is before us tonight makes several changes. It

  • Closes a loophole in the requirement that the City give a warning before issuing a citation so that a warning is only required once per season rather than once per snow event (the current ordinance language creates a loophole that prevents ticketing when there are frequent snows);
  • Clarifies that property owners are responsible for clearing snow from bus stops and crosswalk approaches;
  • Clarifies that ice that cannot be removed can be treated with sand or ice melt until such time as it can be removed;
  • Requires people in residential areas to remove compacted snow greater than 1/2 inch;
  • Creates an 18-hour requirement for the removal treatment of ice from sidewalks;
  • Clarifies that sidewalks on public land must be cleared to the highest standard of the adjacent properties;
  • Affirms that city employees have discretion in issuing citations so long as there is reasonably unimpeded passage on the sidewalk;

For me, the most important of these is closing the loophole around the warning requirements. Two years ago we faced a winter with frequent snowfalls. This created a situation in which it became impossible to issue citations against property owners who refused to clear their walks Each new snow event “reset the clock” and required a new warning before a new citation could be issued.

I believe that all of the changes listed above are important and I would like to see them move forward. That said, there are two main issues on which I hear considerable debate yet:

  • What is the threshold for clearing snow? The ordinance currently on the books sets a 1 inch threshold–If there is less than 1 inch of snow you don’t have to shovel. The current proposal sets the threshold as 1 inch of uncompacted snow or 1/2 inch of compacted snow. Some argue that the standard should be complete snow removal. Others argue that a light dusting of snow does not impede mobility and that the requirement to remove all snow would significantly increase the costs for people who pay for snow removal and would unduly burden people with physical limitations.
  • What should the timeframe be for snow clearing? The proposed ordinance has different requirements for residential and non-residential areas and for the time for clearing snow versus treating ice in residential areas. Some argue that the various standards are confusing and that the 24-hour clearing requirement in residential areas is too long. Others argue that it is legitimate to hold commercial properties to a higher snow removal standard and that it is appropriate to treat the different conditions differently.

OK, still with me? There’s one more factor to consider in all this, the implementation timeline.  If we make significant changes to the snow removal threshold we need to engage in a public education effort before we start issuing tickets. We have already missed the window that would have given staff enough time to conduct public education for this season. I do not believe, however, that we need a public education campaign to close the “frequent snowfall loophole.” If a property owner obstinately refuses to clear their walks, I don’t think we should let a dusting of snow every other allow them to dodge compliance. That’s why I would like to make what improvements we can and, if necessary, come back to the issues of threshold and timeframe.

———–

P.S. I’ve just seen the text of one of the action alerts on this issue. While I applaud the author’s work to organize voices in support of accessible sidewalks, there are a few errors in the alert.

Error 1–one warning per season: The alert states “The current ordinance in force allows offenders one warning per snow event. The Task Force recommendation is to make it only one warning per winter season, before a property can be fined. This is incorrect. The proposed ordinance language actually does change the standard from one warning per snow event to one warning warning per season through changes to section 4:61(1).

Error 2–ice removal: The alert states that “The new draft ordinance ELIMINATES the requirement to remove ice, retaining merely a requirement to “treat the ice…to prevent it from being slippery”. The full text of the proposed language is:

all snow and ice which has accumulated … on a public sidewalk …shall be removed…. The owner or occupant of the property shall also remove snow and ice from walks and ramps that are at bus stops or that lead to a marked or unmarked crosswalk. Provided that when ice has so formed upon any sidewalk, walk or ramp that it cannot be removed, then the owner or occupant shall keep the same effectively sprinkled with sand, salt or other suitable substance in such manner as to prevent the ice from being dangerous, until such time as it can be removed, and then it shall be promptly removed.

The proposed change does still require removal of ice, but recognizes that there are conditions in which the ice adheres to the sidewalk and cannot be cleared in the relevant window. You may think this change is unwise, but it is not an elimination of the ice removal requirement.

On the topic of multiple standards within the document, I agree that there is room to improve the clarity, but I also think it is fair to hold commercial properties to a higher standard of snow clearing than residential ones.

You can read the proposed amendment online at:

http://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=4052446&GUID=ED40EE29-268C-495B-A591-8A683D3E7BBD

Deer Herd Management: A vote for the ecosystem as a whole

Update November 2016: Research by Dr. Jacqueline Courteau analyzed grazing impacts of deer grazing on Ann Arbor parks. Based on her analysis of national data on temperate forests shows that deer browse damage of greater that 15% of oak seedlings inhibits forest regeneration. Her field work showed that deer browse damage in our natural areas is significantly above this level. You can read about her her research here.

UPDATE 12/19/2015 Part 1: Some have questioned the scientific basis for the cull. So, what does Professor Chris Dick,  Professor at University of  Michigan, Director of University of Michigan Herbarium, and Director of the E.S. George Reserve hear from his colleagues?
@ChuckWarp all #UMich biodiversity researchers I've spoken with support #A2council's vote for cull. Thanks for enduring the political heat!

The cull will be conducted by the USDA and in coordination with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to ensure that is complies with all legal requirements and with the utmost commitment to safety.

UPDATE 12/19/2015 Part 2: There have been concerns raised by many, including those neutral to supportive of the cull, of the length of the park closings. When I saw the length of time for the closings, I too was taken aback. Staff worked hard to balance the needs for

  • Safety
  • Effectiveness
  • Park Access,

In that process, for the first  year of the cull there was a decision that it was very important to provide very clear, consistent, and highly cautious rules about park closures for the duration of the cull. The staff plan calls for closing 26 of the 73 parks and nature areas in Wards 1 and 2.

In response to the concerns, Councilmembers Sabra Briere and Chip Smith are bringing forward a resolution that would remove Argo and Bandemer parks from the cull (as parts of the Border-to-Border trail), Olson Park (at it is the city of the one of the City’s 2 dog parks), and Furstenberg park.

All parks affected by the cull will open again as soon as the cull completes, likely before March 31. Parks will remain open on Saturdays and Sundays.

Additional details about the closures, rationale, and safety precautions can be found at: http://www.a2gov.org/news/pages/article.aspx?i=210.


 

There has been significant discussion of the City Council vote to endorse a deer management plan that includes a deer cull.

First of all, I recognize that this is an issue that is deeply felt. Some are deeply against killing of animals for any reason. Others are against use of firearms in City limits under any circumstances other than law enforcement. These are fair and legitimate concerns that I have considered seriously in the discussion.

But they are not the only fair and legitimate concerns at play: concerns about car/deer collisions, concerns about public health, concerns about the long-term health of the deer herd, and others.

Those of us who have supported culling have been accused of doing it to save garden plants. For me, it is not about saving hostas.

For me, the most relevant other concern is the impact on our natural areas.

Is there a problem?

Some of the debate has been around if there is a problem in the first place. I believe there is. Recently a resident described seeing forty deer outside his window. That is not normal deer behavior. It is not healthy deer behavior.

Recently a fawn browsing at my workplace allowed me to get within six feet of it (I was too nervous to try to get closer). That is not normal deer behavior. It is not healthy deer behavior.

What’s more, there has been documentation of deer destruction to our natural areas. Kurt S., a park steward who is very active with natural areas restoration, recently challenged City Council and the community to find an unfenced oak seedling between 3 and 8 feet tall in the natural areas in wards 1 or 2.  He argued we wouldn’t find this next generation of the trees (for which Ann Arbor is named) because deer herds are too large and have browsed them all.

Nobody has yet met Kurt’s challenge.  [Update: As of November, 5, I have heard 2 accounts of people who have met the challenge. Of note, however, is that this was before the winter when browsing pressure increases. It will be interesting to see how many survive until spring.]

First of all, I recognize that this is an issue that is deeply felt. Some are deeply against killing of animals for any reason. Others are against use of firearms in City limits under any circumstances other than law enforcement. These are fair and legitimate concerns that I have considered seriously in the discussion.

But they are not the only fair and legitimate concerns at play: concerns about car/deer collisions, concerns about public health, concerns about the long-term health of the deer herd, and others.  For me, the most relevant other concern is the impact on our natural areas.

Is there a problem?

Some of the debate has been around if there is a problem in the first place. I believe there is. Recently a resident described seeing forty deer outside his window. That is not normal deer behavior. It is not healthy deer behavior.

Recently a fawn browsing at my workplace allowed me to get within six feet of it (I was too nervous to try to get closer). That is not normal deer behavior. It is not healthy deer behavior.

What’s more, there has been documentation of deer destruction to our natural areas. Kurt Sonen, a park steward who is very active with natural areas restoration, recently challenged City Council and the community to find an unfenced oak seedling between 3 and 8 feet tall in the natural areas in wards 1 or 2.  He argued we wouldn’t find this next generation of the trees (for which Ann Arbor is named) because deer herds are too large and have browsed them all.

Nobody has yet met Kurt’s challenge. .  [Update: As of November, 5, I have heard 2 accounts of people who have met the challenge. Of note, however, is that this was before the winter when browsing pressure increases. It will be interesting to see how many survive until spring.]

My own field observations back this up. My office is near a designated habitat area in Ward 1. Volunteers have put in tremendous work to clear out invasive species and to try to re-establish native plants. I myself have put in many hours uprooting buckthorn and honeysuckle. But all that comes back are more invasives. The native plantings are destroyed and, despite much hard labor, the understory layer remains dominated with invasive plants. Why? Deer overpopulation leads to overbrowsing and the destruction of native species.

These observations square with other ecologists observations of the effects of deer overpopulation.

The Audubon Society says:

“You have to protect yourself, your family, and native ecosystems from the most dangerous and destructive wild animal in North America, an animal responsible for maiming and killing hundreds of humans each year, an animal that wipes out whole forests along with most of their fauna. (http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/08/22/too-many-deer/)

A recent study of the impact of white-tailed deer on Bird Hills Nature Area, found:

This survey of 142 tree saplings (less than 2 meters tall) and shrubs in Bird Hills Nature Area shows that 80% have been browsed by deer, and 51% have half or more branches browsed. This level of browsing could interfere with forest regeneration and diminish the flowers and fruit available for birds, butterflies, and bees. Further monitoring would be necessary to track mortality, to reveal whether particular tree and shrub species of concern are browsed in future years, and to assess whether wildflower species are also being heavily browsed. (http://wc4eb.org/wp-content/documents/DeerBrowseBirdHills2015.pdf)

The local chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club recently reported:

Many of our members have lived in the Ann Arbor area long enough to have seen the dramatic declines in wildflowers in many of the treasured woodlots in the Ann Arbor area in recent decades. As deer exclosure experiments have repeated shown in Michigan and other areas, much of this loss, especially in sensitive plant groups like native orchids and conspicuous species such as trilliums and lilies, is due to excessively high deer populations.  The detrimental effects of high deer populations on tree reproduction are also well known, and deer are also implicated in disturbances promoting invasive species. This is all in addition to the considerable monetary impact that high deer populations have in destroying landscaping in resident’s yards and generating more numerous deer-car collisions, to say nothing of potentially entrenching Lyme disease in our area.

The Nature Conservancy observed:

In our opinion, no other threat to forested habitats is greater at this point in time — not lack of fire, not habitat conversion, not climate change. Only invasive exotic insects and disease have been comparable in magnitude. We can argue about which threat is more significant than another, but no one who walks the eastern forests today can deny the impact of deer to forest condition. (http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/08/22/too-many-deer/)

National environmental organizations have recognized the threat, and local field observations back it up. Deer overpopulation is a threat to the ecological health of our natural areas.

This should not be a surprise to us. Deer co-evolved with predators. We have increased deer habitat (more on that below) while also eliminating natural predators. A population explosion is too be expected. When this first came up I joked about bringing back wolves, but while deer thrive in a residential or office park-type ecosystem, wolves do not.

How to deal with the problem:

Believing as I do that there is a problem, the next question is “what to do about it?”

Option 1–Do nothing: Not taking steps to address the impacts on natural areas is a problem, though it would be one I am loathe to accept, but if the costs of management were too high, I might have to resign myself to the natural areas destruction from an excessive deer herd. (Strategies that have been discussed to address landscape damage or car/deer collisions such as fencing and planting deer-resistant species do not address the natural areas impacts).

 

Option 2—Deer Fertility Control: The Humane Society of the United States has supported the experimental use of deer fertility control methods such as immunocontraception or surgical sterilization of does.

Many other communities have tried these approaches (see for example the Cornell efforts, http://wildlifecontrol.info/deer/Documents/IDRM_12-5-2014.pdf). Some areas have seen some level of success with this approach when the herd is confined such as one found on an island. Despite many times it has been tried in free-ranging herds (such as the one here), I have found no evidence that it successfully lowers the deer population.

That said, I think there may be potential in using non-lethal methods to manage the size of the deer herd after it is brought down to an appropriate level. This is not a sure thing, the main drug used in immunocontraception is not legal in Michigan for this use and may actually make does into “buck magnets” by having them go through estrus but not become impregnated. The other main approach, surgical sterilization, is a costly endeavor (around $1,000/doe) and has its own set of ethical concerns.

Still, I supported efforts to explore these options. For my part, I would be willing to spend more money on fertility control efforts to maintain herd size (though not unlimited amounts more) if there is either strong evidence of their success in that role or an appropriately-designed research methodology that would evaluate impact while protecting the ecology of our natural areas.

 

Option 3—culling: The third option, a cull with professionally-trained sharpshooter under highly-regulated conditions outside of the hunting season, is the option that I joined the majority on Council in supporting to reduce the herd size.

Obviously, this brings with it many concerns. Some are opposed to any lethal deer management efforts, others are concerned about the use of firearms in the City. I get it. I work hard in my day job to help move forward common-sense gun regulations to prevent gun death and violence. I used to be a vegetarian (yes, I know I lose credibility in that statement with the “used to be.”)

That said, when I look at the evidence I see a deer cull as the most effective effort to protect our natural ecosystems, and the success of culls across the country supports this position. Culls also have an excellent safety record, and reducing the deer herd size will bring with it increased safety for motorists.

 

Development does not decrease deer habitat

In the debate, several have argued that we have created this problem by destroying deer habitat to make way for development. While development does play a role here, it is actually the opposite. Deer need both open areas for browsing and forested areas for cover. They do not thrive habitat this is all forest or all open field. So, residential and office park-style development actually increase deer habitat. According to an article in the New York Times:

Then suburbanization created a browser’s paradise: a vast patchwork of well-watered, fertilizer-fattened plantings to feed on and vest-pocket forests to hide in, with hunters banished to more distant woods.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/12/science/out-of-control-deer-send-ecosystem-into-chaos.html)

 

 

 

First of all, I recognize that this is an issue that is deeply felt. Some are deeply against killing of animals for any reason. Others are against use of firearms in City limits under any circumstances other than law enforcement. These are fair and legitimate concerns that I have considered seriously in the discussion.

But they are not the only fair and legitimate concerns at play: concerns about car/deer collisions, concerns about public health, concerns about the long-term health of the deer herd, and others.  For me, the most relevant other concern is the impact on our natural areas.

Is there a problem?

Some of the debate has been around if there is a problem in the first place. I believe there is. Recently a resident described seeing forty deer outside his window. That is not normal deer behavior. It is not healthy deer behavior.

Recently a fawn browsing at my workplace allowed me to get within six feet of it (I was too nervous to try to get closer). That is not normal deer behavior. It is not healthy deer behavior.

What’s more, there has been documentation of deer destruction to our natural areas. Kurt Sonen, a park steward who is very active with natural areas restoration, recently challenged City Council and the community to find an unfenced oak seedling between 3 and 8 feet tall in the natural areas in wards 1 or 2.  He argued we wouldn’t find this next generation of the trees (for which Ann Arbor is named) because deer herds are too large and have browsed them all.

Nobody has yet met Kurt’s challenge. .  [Update: As of November, 5, I have heard 2 accounts of people who have met the challenge. Of note, however, is that this was before the winter when browsing pressure increases. It will be interesting to see how many survive until spring.]

My own field observations back this up. My office is near a designated habitat area in Ward 1. Volunteers have put in tremendous work to clear out invasive species and to try to re-establish native plants. I myself have put in many hours uprooting buckthorn and honeysuckle. But all that comes back are more invasives. The native plantings are destroyed and, despite much hard labor, the understory layer remains dominated with invasive plants. Why? Deer overpopulation leads to overbrowsing and the destruction of native species.

These observations square with other ecologists observations of the effects of deer overpopulation.

The Audubon Society says:

“You have to protect yourself, your family, and native ecosystems from the most dangerous and destructive wild animal in North America, an animal responsible for maiming and killing hundreds of humans each year, an animal that wipes out whole forests along with most of their fauna. (http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/08/22/too-many-deer/)

A recent study of the impact of white-tailed deer on Bird Hills Nature Area, found:

This survey of 142 tree saplings (less than 2 meters tall) and shrubs in Bird Hills Nature Area shows that 80% have been browsed by deer, and 51% have half or more branches browsed. This level of browsing could interfere with forest regeneration and diminish the flowers and fruit available for birds, butterflies, and bees. Further monitoring would be necessary to track mortality, to reveal whether particular tree and shrub species of concern are browsed in future years, and to assess whether wildflower species are also being heavily browsed. (http://wc4eb.org/wp-content/documents/DeerBrowseBirdHills2015.pdf)

The local chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club recently reported:

Many of our members have lived in the Ann Arbor area long enough to have seen the dramatic declines in wildflowers in many of the treasured woodlots in the Ann Arbor area in recent decades. As deer exclosure experiments have repeated shown in Michigan and other areas, much of this loss, especially in sensitive plant groups like native orchids and conspicuous species such as trilliums and lilies, is due to excessively high deer populations.  The detrimental effects of high deer populations on tree reproduction are also well known, and deer are also implicated in disturbances promoting invasive species. This is all in addition to the considerable monetary impact that high deer populations have in destroying landscaping in resident’s yards and generating more numerous deer-car collisions, to say nothing of potentially entrenching Lyme disease in our area.

The Nature Conservancy observed:

In our opinion, no other threat to forested habitats is greater at this point in time — not lack of fire, not habitat conversion, not climate change. Only invasive exotic insects and disease have been comparable in magnitude. We can argue about which threat is more significant than another, but no one who walks the eastern forests today can deny the impact of deer to forest condition. (http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/08/22/too-many-deer/)

National environmental organizations have recognized the threat, and local field observations back it up. Deer overpopulation is a threat to the ecological health of our natural areas.

This should not be a surprise to us. Deer co-evolved with predators. We have increased deer habitat (more on that below) while also eliminating natural predators. A population explosion is too be expected. When this first came up I joked about bringing back wolves, but while deer thrive in a residential or office park-type ecosystem, wolves do not.

How to deal with the problem:

Believing as I do that there is a problem, the next question is “what to do about it?”

Option 1–Do nothing: Not taking steps to address the impacts on natural areas is a problem, though it would be one I am loathe to accept, but if the costs of management were too high, I might have to resign myself to the natural areas destruction from an excessive deer herd. (Strategies that have been discussed to address landscape damage or car/deer collisions such as fencing and planting deer-resistant species do not address the natural areas impacts).

 

Option 2—Deer Fertility Control: The Humane Society of the United States has supported the experimental use of deer fertility control methods such as immunocontraception or surgical sterilization of does.

Many other communities have tried these approaches (see for example the Cornell efforts, http://wildlifecontrol.info/deer/Documents/IDRM_12-5-2014.pdf). Some areas have seen some level of success with this approach when the herd is confined such as one found on an island. Despite many times it has been tried in free-ranging herds (such as the one here), I have found no evidence that it successfully lowers the deer population.

That said, I think there may be potential in using non-lethal methods to manage the size of the deer herd after it is brought down to an appropriate level. This is not a sure thing, the main drug used in immunocontraception is not legal in Michigan for this use and may actually make does into “buck magnets” by having them go through estrus but not become impregnated. The other main approach, surgical sterilization, is a costly endeavor (around $1,000/doe) and has its own set of ethical concerns.

Still, I supported efforts to explore these options. For my part, I would be willing to spend more money on fertility control efforts to maintain herd size (though not unlimited amounts more) if there is either strong evidence of their success in that role or an appropriately-designed research methodology that would evaluate impact while protecting the ecology of our natural areas.

 

Option 3—culling: The third option, a cull with professionally-trained sharpshooter under highly-regulated conditions outside of the hunting season, is the option that I joined the majority on Council in supporting to reduce the herd size.

Obviously, this brings with it many concerns. Some are opposed to any lethal deer management efforts, others are concerned about the use of firearms in the City. I get it. I work hard in my day job to help move forward common-sense gun regulations to prevent gun death and violence. I used to be a vegetarian (yes, I know I lose credibility in that statement with the “used to be.”)

That said, when I look at the evidence I see a deer cull as the most effective effort to protect our natural ecosystems, and the success of culls across the country supports this position. Culls also have an excellent safety record, and reducing the deer herd size will bring with it increased safety for motorists.

 

Development does not decrease deer habitat

In the debate, several have argued that we have created this problem by destroying deer habitat to make way for development. While development does play a role here, it is actually the opposite. Deer need both open areas for browsing and forested areas for cover. They do not thrive habitat this is all forest or all open field. So, residential and office park-style development actually increase deer habitat. According to an article in the New York Times:

Then suburbanization created a browser’s paradise: a vast patchwork of well-watered, fertilizer-fattened plantings to feed on and vest-pocket forests to hide in, with hunters banished to more distant woods.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/12/science/out-of-control-deer-send-ecosystem-into-chaos.html)

 

 

My own field observations back this up. My office is near a designated habitat area in Ward 1. Volunteers have put in tremendous work to clear out invasive species and to try to re-establish native plants. I myself have put in many hours uprooting buckthorn and honeysuckle. But all that comes back are more invasives. The native plantings are destroyed and, despite much hard labor, the understory layer remains dominated with invasive plants. Why? Deer overpopulation leads to overbrowsing and the destruction of native species.

These observations square with other ecologists observations of the effects of deer overpopulation.

The Audubon Society says:

“You have to protect yourself, your family, and native ecosystems from the most dangerous and destructive wild animal in North America, an animal responsible for maiming and killing hundreds of humans each year, an animal that wipes out whole forests along with most of their fauna.

A recent study of the impact of white-tailed deer on Bird Hills Nature Area, found:

This survey of 142 tree saplings (less than 2 meters tall) and shrubs in Bird Hills Nature Area shows that 80% have been browsed by deer, and 51% have half or more branches browsed. This level of browsing could interfere with forest regeneration and diminish the flowers and fruit available for birds, butterflies, and bees. Further monitoring would be necessary to track mortality, to reveal whether particular tree and shrub species of concern are browsed in future years, and to assess whether wildflower species are also being heavily browsed.

The local chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club recently reported:

Many of our members have lived in the Ann Arbor area long enough to have seen the dramatic declines in wildflowers in many of the treasured woodlots in the Ann Arbor area in recent decades. As deer exclosure experiments have repeated shown in Michigan and other areas, much of this loss, especially in sensitive plant groups like native orchids and conspicuous species such as trilliums and lilies, is due to excessively high deer populations.  The detrimental effects of high deer populations on tree reproduction are also well known, and deer are also implicated in disturbances promoting invasive species. This is all in addition to the considerable monetary impact that high deer populations have in destroying landscaping in resident’s yards and generating more numerous deer-car collisions, to say nothing of potentially entrenching Lyme disease in our area.

The Nature Conservancy observed:

In our opinion, no other threat to forested habitats is greater at this point in time — not lack of fire, not habitat conversion, not climate change. Only invasive exotic insects and disease have been comparable in magnitude. We can argue about which threat is more significant than another, but no one who walks the eastern forests today can deny the impact of deer to forest condition.

National environmental organizations have recognized the threat, and local field observations back it up. Deer overpopulation is a threat to the ecological health of our natural areas.

This should not be a surprise to us. Deer co-evolved with predators. We have increased deer habitat (more on that below) while also eliminating natural predators. A population explosion is too be expected. When this first came up I joked about bringing back wolves, but while deer thrive in a residential or office park-type ecosystem, wolves do not.

Therefore, we are in a situation where to do nothing is to choose one species over others. To do nothing is to prioritize the lives of deer over the lives of native trillium, which have been almost entirely eliminated from our nature areas. To do nothing is to prioritize the lives of deer over the oak seedling necessary for the regeneration of our forests, and to prioritize the lives of deer over the lives of other animals that will depend on the acorns and habitat that the mature oaks would provide. To do nothing is to prioritize the lives of deer over the lives of other animal species, such as the indigo bunting, which needs understory-level nesting habitat that is eliminated by deer.

All of our choices in this affect the web of life.

-How to deal with the problem:

Believing as I do that there is a problem, the next question is “what to do about it?”

Option 1–Do nothing: Not taking steps to address the impacts on natural areas is a problem, though it would be one I am loathe to accept, but if the costs of management were too high, I might have to resign myself to the natural areas destruction from an excessive deer herd. (Strategies that have been discussed to address landscape damage or car/deer collisions such as fencing and planting deer-resistant species do not address the natural areas impacts).

Option 2—Deer Fertility Control: The Humane Society of the United States has supported the experimental use of deer fertility control methods such as immunocontraception or surgical sterilization of does.

Many other communities have tried these approaches (see for example the Cornell efforts). Some areas have seen some level of success with this approach when the herd is confined such as one found on an island. Despite many times it has been tried in free-ranging herds (such as the one here), I have found no evidence that it successfully lowers the deer population.

That said, I think there may be potential in using non-lethal methods to manage the size of the deer herd after it is brought down to an appropriate level. This is not a sure thing, the main drug used in immunocontraception is not legal in Michigan for this use and may actually make does into “buck magnets” by having them go through estrus but not become impregnated. The other main approach, surgical sterilization, is a costly endeavor (around $1,000/doe) and has its own set of ethical concerns.

Still, I supported efforts to explore these options. For my part, I would be willing to spend more money on fertility control efforts to maintain herd size (though not unlimited amounts more) if there is either strong evidence of their success in that role or an appropriately-designed research methodology that would evaluate impact while protecting the ecology of our natural areas.

Option 3—culling: The third option, a cull with professionally-trained sharpshooter under highly-regulated conditions outside of the hunting season, is the option that I joined the majority on Council in supporting to reduce the herd size.

Obviously, this brings with it many concerns. Some are opposed to any lethal deer management efforts, others are concerned about the use of firearms in the City. I get it. I work hard in my day job to help move forward common-sense gun regulations to prevent gun death and violence. I used to be a vegetarian (yes, I know I lose credibility in that statement with the “used to be.”)

That said, when I look at the evidence I see a deer cull as the most effective effort to protect our natural ecosystems, and the success of culls across the country supports this position. Culls also have an excellent safety record, and reducing the deer herd size will bring with it increased safety for motorists.

Development does not decrease deer habitat

In the debate, several have argued that we have created this problem by destroying deer habitat to make way for development. While development does play a role here, it is actually the opposite. Deer need both open areas for browsing and forested areas for cover. They do not thrive in habitat this is all forest or all open field. So, residential and office park-style development actually increase deer habitat. According to an article in the New York Times:

Then suburbanization created a browser’s paradise: a vast patchwork of well-watered, fertilizer-fattened plantings to feed on and vest-pocket forests to hide in, with hunters banished to more distant woods.

 

 

A Win for Affordable Housing

At the last City Council meeting in January, I successfully championed a measure to significantly increase available funds for affordable housing by allocating all net proceeds from the sale of the old Y lot to the affordable housing trust fund. The Ann Arbor Chronicle, as usual, provides excellent coverage.

While many in Ann Arbor are affluent, or at least comfortable, there are also those in our community who are pushed out by our high cost of living. Supporting affordable housing is a vital need in our community.

While in the end the resolution passed unanimously, one of the questions that came up in debate was how much we should be spending on affordable housing compared and how much on cops, firefighters, and roads. Human services is a tiny part of the budget compared to safety services and infrastructure. Here is my plea to fund affordable housing, as transcribed by the Ann Arbor Chronicle:

We say one of our budget priorities is police and fire. That gets $39.5 million dollars in our budget. It’s the biggest chunk of our budget. We say it’s a priority and that’s where we are putting our money – in police and fire. Infrastructure is one of those – roads is $14 million. We say it’s a priority, we are putting most of the money in those areas. But we say affordable housing is a priority – compared to the big ones, it’s minuscule. If this is a priority, let’s fund it. When the Y came down, there were two big losses to the community. One was the hundred units.

But the other loss we heard was the one that Jennifer Hall was telling us about. We lost the site that best served our most needy community members, by providing them a site that had a safe, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week staffed front door – for long-term housing. We don’t have anything else that does that. So for people who are hard to house – fighting addiction, worried about getting abused by people in their lives – they can walk in and they’ve got somebody stopping, watching their back when they get to the door, so they don’t get bullied or re-victimized and hurt. That’s the other thing we lost.

And that is why I was so delighted when I talked to Jennifer all last week, and she said: We have a plan [for converting Miller Manor to a front-door staffed facility] … Compared to what else we’re spending, we’re not putting the same money that we’re putting onto what we’re doing on the other priorities. … It still doesn’t help us move forward in terms of providing beds for those people we heard from who don’t have a warm place to sleep – tonight or when the warming shelter isn’t open. And so I think we need to be looking for other opportunities….

When I voted yes to sell the Y site to Dennis Dahlmann, I wasn’t doing it just to get the debt off the books – that was a good thing. I certainly wasn’t doing it to help him have one more property that wasn’t going to be a hotel to compete with him. I was doing it because I thought it was going to be a path to get money to fund affordable housing. This is our opportunity. We’re not going to get a lot of opportunities like this to put some money aside for affordable housing. We’ve got the needs. The 11 of us will all have a warm place to sleep tonight. We have a responsibility to do what we can to provide that for the rest in our community. Thank you.

Where will the funds go? That has yet to be determined, but I see three top contenders:

  1. Front Desk Services at Miller Manor: One pressing need we have in this community is for housing for people who are chronically homeless. To serve this population well, however, requires a facility with a 24/7 staffed front door to protect these individuals –and their neighbors–from predatory behavior. When the YMCA operated housing, they provided this. There is a plan to retrofit Miller Manor to provide this coverage, and the revenue from this sale could help make that a reality.
  2. Affordable Housing on Platt Road: Washtenaw County has appointed a committee to review options for the old Juvenile center on Platt Road. One of the potential uses for that site is affordable housing, perhaps along the lines of Avalon Housing’s Carrot Way community. If the County decides to pursue affordable housing for that site, these funds could help Ann Arbor be a partner in that endeavor.
  3. Improve Public Housing: Congress has consistently cut Federal Funds for public housing, making it hard for all public housing providers (including Ann Arbor’s Housing Commission) to adequately maintain their public housing stock. The Housing Commission is going through a process that includes improvements to many of these projects, and it’s expensive. These funds may be able to help with that process

Apply to be on the Pedestrian Safety Task Force, deadline December 2

Pedestrian Crossing Sign_originalLast week City Council approved the creation of a 9-member Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force.

The goal here is to take a holistic look at what we can do to improve pedestrian safety. It’s inspired by the Federal Highway Administration’s guide How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. We are looking for people with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds to participate in the task force. Would you like to be one of them?

To apply, please fill out the Application for Membership City Council Boards/Commissions/Committees by 4pm on December 2. Submit your completed application to:

Christine Schopiery
[email protected]
Office of the Mayor
3rd Floor – City Hall
100 North Fifth Ave, PO Box 8647
Ann Arbor, MI 48107-8647
Phone: 734 794-6161
Fax: 734 332-5966