Urban Deer in Kalamazoo

Two deer in one of Kalamazoo's city parks

White-tailed deer are one of the most charismatic and recognizable species of wildlife, but they are creating a growing concern in many urban areas, including Kalamazoo. Deer often thrive in these areas, which have few natural predators, plenty of food and water, and as a result a high survival rate for offspring. A rapidly growing population can lead to a variety of quality of life issues like increased collisions with vehicles, spreading of diseases like Lyme disease, destruction of landscaping or gardens, and damage to our ecosystem.  

Ad Hoc Committee & Report

City staff encouraged neighborhood leaders to form an ad hoc committee to research the deer population in Kalamazoo and the quality of life issues it is causing. The committee explored the issue by reviewing research, conducting a survey, and exploring how other communities approach the issue. A report, "Addressing the Urban Deer in Kalamazoo," was prepared and presented to the Environmental Concerns Committee and City Commission for review. The report includes several recommendations but does not reach a final conclusion on what should be done to manage the deer population. 

View the Report: Addressing the Urban Deer Population in Kalamazoo (including survey results)(PDF, 2MB)

The report makes a few near term recommendations, like creating an informational web page on this issue and implementing a carcass removal program. It also recommends further research to be done by the City to establish a safe and effective long-term deer management plan. 

Report an Animal Carcass

If you see a dead deer or other animal in the city, let us know right away so we can make sure its removed. You can report dead animals in or along city streets or on private property. 

Report a Dead Animal

About White-Tailed Deer

Deer are generalist herbivores that exist in rural, suburban, and some urban areas throughout much of North America. White-tailed deer often shift from open canopy vegetation to forested cover seasonally and according to different food availability. During early spring, open canopy vegetation provides herbaceous forage. During summer deer may browse in wetland areas and in autumn deer often prefer hardwood forests if a mast crop is available. For these reasons, the white-tailed deer is a species that often thrives in the transition between forest and open canopy vegetation, or edge habitat. The forest/open canopy edge also occurs at the forest transition to areas such as landscaped suburban yards, parks, or playing fields where low intensity residential development is spreading into once rural farmed or forested areas.

More information and references are included in the ad hoc committee report, "Addressing the Urban Deer Population in Kalamazoo."(PDF, 2MB)

Reproduction

Deer productivity rates (fawns produced per doe) are generally highest in regions with an abundance of nutritious food. In lean years, deer tend to have just one fawn or none, reabsorbing their embryos when their nutritional status is poor. When their food supply is good, twins or triplets may be born.

In Michigan, the deer mating season typically occurs during late October through December. Gestation is about 200 days, and the peak of fawn drop is mid-May to mid-June. For the first couple of weeks, does leave their fawns in a hiding place for several hours at a time, returning briefly to nurse them. This strategy reduces the likelihood of predators locating the newborn fawn. Fawns begin to follow their mother on her foraging trips at about 4 weeks of age.

White-tailed deer fawns are nursed for 8 to 10 weeks before they are weaned. In southern lower Michigan, where habitat for deer is excellent and winters are relatively mild, about 30 to 50 percent of females breed as fawns and produce a fawn themselves when 1-year old. Pregnancy rates for does two years and older typically are very high, ranging from 80 to 95 percent. Pregnant one-year old does usually produce a single fawn, whereas older does usually produce twins, with singles or triplets possible depending upon their age and nutritional status.

Food

The diet of white-tailed deer changes with the seasons. Succulent herbaceous plants, such as hostas, sedums asters, and chard are preferred by deer during the summer months. Favorite winter “browse” species in Michigan are white cedar, maple, birch, aspen, dogwood, and sumac, as well as many shrubs.

Mortality

A deer’s life expectancy in Michigan is influenced greatly by hunting pressure and hunting regulations, but this only has an impact in rural areas. Deer-vehicle collisions are another major source of deer mortality in the state.

Behavior & Range

Deer leap as high as 10 feet in a single bound. Although they are great jumpers, fences that are 8 feet or higher typically deter them.

The size and shape of a deer’s home range varies with deer density, sex, landscape conditions, habitat quality, and seasons. Non-migratory deer in the southern lower peninsula have an estimated annual home range size of 0.2–2.9 square miles. Males generally have larger home ranges than females. Research has shown yearling bucks in southern Michigan travel about 6 miles on average. Female resident deer have a home range of .48 to .83 square miles. The relatively small annual home ranges may be attributed to:

  • Land ownership patterns (scattered woodlots)
  • Quality of hte habitat provided by stakeholders
  • The positive values stakeholders have for deer

Influential landscape variables included distance to forest, roads, and urban development. Deer occupying better habitats can fulfill all their necessary requirements (suitable food and cover) in smaller areas. For the deer, this leads to good nutrition, which means excellent physical condition and a high reproductive rate. This highly fragmented landscape is the preferred habitat structure of white-tailed deer.

Fencing

Appendix A-6.3 Screening and Fences outlines the permitted height, materials, and locations for fencing. These standards apply to traditional fencing, including along property lines, to denote yards, screening in commercial areas, and for privacy. The Municipal Code in Chapter 34-10 sets separate standards for fencing around swimming pools, including opacity (transparency) and materials.

Gardens and fruit trees are common in residential neighborhoods in Kalamazoo. These are often enclosed, either for decorative purposes or for protection from animals such as rabbits and deer. Enclosures around gardens or fruit trees are not typically considered fencing as described in Appendix A-6.3.

When the following parameters are met, this type of enclosure is may be used in the front or corner side yards.

  1. Enclosure materials must appear transparent or nearly transparent at 20’ distance. See examples below.
    • Enclosure materials include:
      • light-weight plastic, garden, or deer fencing
      • welded wire panels (such a Hog or Cattle panels, where 75% of the panels openings are 4” wide)
      • double or triple twisted hexagonal wire mesh with openings less than 2”
    • Chain link, safety or snow fences are not permitted.
  2. Enclosure material should be neutral colors such as black, brown, or green.
  3. Supports can be wood or metal coated in a neutral color such as black, brown, or green.
  4. Enclosures may have a gate.
  5. Enclosure height, both the enclosure material and the supports, may be up to 7 feet.
    • Enclosures around landscaping in the right-of-way may be no taller than 3 feet.
    • Any activities, including landscaping in the right-of-way are at the property owner’s risk; a Right-of-Way Permit may be required from Public Services.
  6. Enclosures may be installed temporarily or used year-round.

Similar enclosure materials may also be used to extend existing fences along the side or rear property lines from 7 feet up to as high as 14 feet.

Illustration of a fence with an extension added to deter deer

Example Materials

Plastic Garden/ Deer Rolls

Welded Wire Panels

Hexagonal Wire

Deer Resistant Plants

No plants are "deer proof," but some are more prone to be damaged than others. Planting plants that are less likely to be damaged by deer its one way to reduce the impact they may cause to your landscaping. There are a variety of resources available online that list deer resistant species of plants. This one from Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) Cooperative Extension personnel and Rutgers Master Gardeners lists plants based on the likelihood they would be damaged. 

https://njaes.rutgers.edu/deer-resistant-plants/

Non-Lethal Deterrents

Another option to keep deer away from plants and landscaping is the use of non-lethal repellents. Sprays, lights, sound, or water can all help to scare off deer and keep them away from your property. Local home improvement stores sell a variety of products to choose from. The articles below provide information on a few of the options that are available.   

This Old House: https://www.thisoldhouse.com/pest-control/22959652/best-deer-repellent

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2017/08/14/want-to-keep-the-deer-out-of-your-garden-heres-what-works/

Deer Feeding by Residents

Since deer are generally safe from harassment and hunting in the city, they quickly lose their fear of people and pets and make themselves at home in backyards, parks, or playing fields. Intentionally feeding deer emboldens them even more, causes them to concentrate, and worsens conflicts. Feeding also increases the potential for transmitting disease and increases the potential for vehicle crashes by encouraging deer to cross roadways The State of Michigan has prohibited feeding deer anywhere in the lower peninsula.   

In a survey conducted by the ad hoc committee, 83% of respondents were "not interested in feeding dear" or "concerned or very concerned about fellow neighbors feeding deer."