Why Do Huron-Clinton Metroparks Shoot the Deer on their Land?

The question has come into focus after police officers’ lives were threatened before a scheduled deer hunt.

The day before Kensington Metropark was scheduled to have park officers hunt deer, a receptionist for the park received an anonymous call. The person on the phone said he did not want the deer to be killed. “And then advised the receptionist that he was going to shoot the officers, he’ll be out in the woods and he will shoot the police officers that were shooting the deer,” says Huron-Clinton Metroparks Police Chief Michael Reese.

“You look at the ecosystem as a whole. And if you pull at one of those threads, the entire system starts to unravel. So, it’s a matter of keeping the ecosystems within our parks in balance.” –Amy McMillan, Metroparks director 

A 71-year-old Royal Oak man was later identified as the suspect and he’s now being charged with malicious use of telecommunications services, a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. 

But why were Metroparks officers planning to shoot deer in the first place? WDET’s Laura Herberg spoke with Huron-Clinton Metroparks Director Amy McMillan about the park system’s deer management program.

Listen: Huron-Clinton Metroparks Director Amy McMillan talks about why the system manages deer at its parks. 

In 1999, the Metroparks noticed a decline in the health of its deer population, coupled with a loss of more than 70 species of native plants. Independent biologists were brought in to study the deer and they found that the deer were malnourished. Since then, the parks system has used helicopters to monitor the size of the deer population. The density recommended by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is 15-20 deer per square mile. If there’s more than that, the park system says it employs its park officers to sharp-shoot some of the deer population, donating the meat to feed hungry people.

“No one wants to see the animals become malnourished,” says McMillan. “It’s important to make certain that the parks are able to sustain the herd that we have, whatever size herd that is, so that the deer can remain healthy.”

McMillan says the decision to manage the deer population is also about keeping plants alive. She says that certain plants the deer eat provide homes for ground nesting birds.

“You look at the ecosystem as a whole. And if you pull at one of those threads, the entire system starts to unravel. So, it’s a matter of keeping the ecosystems within our parks in balance,” says McMillan.

While the deer cull has been canceled this year at Kensington Metropark, a hunt successfully took place in February at the adjoined Oakwoods and Willow Metroparks. There, 51 deer were shot from what was estimated to be a herd size of 210.

The Metroparks says it will be conducting a comprehensive review of best practices and alternative methods for deer population control this year. It says it conducted a similar review in 2015.

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  • Laura Herberg
    Laura Herberg is a Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here.