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Portage Wants To Control Huge Deer Population

A deer and a squirrel eat from bird feeders Tuesday, June 3, 2014, in Nashville, Tennesse.
AP Images/Mark Humphrey

The City of Portage is trying to decide what to do about its deer problem. The Portage Environmental Board will hold a public meeting about the issue Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Portage City Hall. The meeting will include a presentation by a Kalamazoo Christian High School class.

“We’re having complaints of damage to landscaping. People with so much scat in their yard that they’re reluctant to use it, especially for children. And the nuisance of having a lot of wild animals in what is supposed to be an urban area,” says Ruth Caputo of Portage's Environmental Board.

That “nuisance” sometimes means car accidents. In 2014, there were more than 800 crashes caused by deer in Kalamazoo County.

Still, deer complaints are pretty common. Portage wanted some hard data to back them up. So the Environmental Board turned to Kalamazoo Christian High School teacher Steve Dyk.

“We had a connection with somebody who was on the board and she contacted us at first and said, ‘Hey can you do some background material for us, look some stuff up, maybe some case studies or some graphs.’ And it kind of evolved into us going out into the community talking to people and doing a deer survey for the entire class period,” says Dyk.

A slide from Steve Dyk's Kalamazoo Christian High School student's presentation
Credit Steve Dyk
A slide from Steve Dyk's Kalamazoo Christian High School student's presentation

In fact, Dyk says students spent a full day of classes on the project.

Using deer tracks, Dyk’s students found that there are about 2,400 deer in Portage. Senior Ryan Wunderly says, to do the survey, they split up into eight groups and drove 250 miles’ worth of Portage roads.

“We recorded the location of the tracks, the number of tracks, and what direction of travel they were going in,” he says.

As you would expect, Steve Dyk says the neighborhoods that had the most deer were in areas surrounded by pockets of woods.

“Most of the populations you see around 30 deer per square mile are healthy populations and we were seeing numbers in the 200, 300, 400, 500 range. And you know that’s getting up there especially for places with roads with speed limits of 50, 55 miles per hour.”

Controlling deer isn’t easy for urban areas that often have strict gun laws. This past summer, the City of Ann Arbor hired trained sharpshooters to help control their deer population. Dyk says that resulted in resident protests.

“We just feel it’s better for the community to be involved. When you look at sharpshooters coming in at night, shutting down parks - you know for a city to do that, for our suggestion it doesn’t seem the best thing to do.”

Instead, Dyk’s students - a quarter of which are hunters - came up with another plan. They suggested a community wide hunt using only bows and crossbows. Dyk says you aren’t allowed to fire shotguns in most areas of Portage.

The hunt would take place on lots of five acres or more and people would only shoot does.

“There are a lot of large bucks in the area. There are a lot of people who would be interested in coming in and just trophy hunting. But when we talk with the DNR - whom we did a lot of talking with - one of the suggestions is when you shoot a buck you basically get rid of one deer out of the population. When you shoot a doe, you’re getting rid of for sure one, but up to two, three, four, five, or six potential deer in the future,” says Dyk.

If you’re not into hunting, senior Alex Pease says there are a lot of things Portage residents can do to deter deer.

“Such as planting shrubs that deer don’t like to eat or even fencing in their yard,” he says.

The best advice? If you don’t want deer, don’t feed them. Dyk says deer aren’t picky eaters. Senior Emily Brown recalls following a set of deer tracks in their survey:

“I think we were going across Centre and we saw a bird feeder on one side of the street and there were deer tracks going towards the birdfeeder and they were crossing Centre. And that’s a pretty popular road - Centre between Oakland and south Westnedge. So it was very like scary because they could have caused an accident just having that birdfeeder on the other side.”

Residents of Portage can attend an informational meeting about the deer problem Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Portage City Hall.

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