Nonprofit fears rescued deer will be killed in East Lansing

City officials dismiss concerns from Nottingham Nature Nook 

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THURSDAY, Dec. 30 — An East Lansing nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating injured and abandoned wildlife is voicing concerns about the city’s plans to kill deer in public parks this winter — specifically at a park area less than a half-mile from its rescue release point.

City officials announced plans for a cadre of highly trained sharpshooters to kill up to 100 deer beginning next week at several East Lansing parks to help reduce the potential for car crashes, ease “public health” concerns and mitigate damage from deer munching on local landscaping.

City officials haven’t released specifics on precisely when and where the deer removal efforts will occur — except to note that “designated” public parks will be periodically barricaded off from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. between Monday, Jan. 3 and March 31 for up to 100 deer to be shot and killed  overnight.

So far, only one location has been clearly identified by the city as a deer slaughter zone: The Family Aquatic Center on Abbott Road. And volunteers with Nottingham Nature Nook are now pushing city officials to reconsider those plans — and quickly.

The chief concern: The Aquatic Center is located less than 1,000 yards from where the animal lovers over at the Nature Nook have routinely released their rescued and rehabilitated deer for several years. And next week, those same deer may wind up locked within the city’s crosshairs.

“For years, we’ve been raising them and releasing them in this area. Some go out into the marshes behind us. There’s also close to a 2,000-acre farm at the end of our road. Others head out toward the softball complex. This has been a safe area for years. And they plan to kill these deer right in our backyard,” said Nature Nook founder Cheryl Connell-Marsh. “It’s just not right.”

Connell-Marsh and her volunteers have helped to rehabilitate and release thousands of injured and abandoned young animals since the Nature Nook opened on Towar Road near the Aquatic Center in 2013. Among the species served are songbirds, red and gray foxes, squirrels, rabbits — and a lot of deer. Connell-Marsh said that up to 20 of them are rehabilitated there annually.

Most are released into a wooded area directly adjacent to the rehabilitation facility, she said.

Nature Nook is also the only state-licensed animal rehabilitation outfit in Clinton County — and the only rehabilitator that is licensed to care for deer within the tri-county Greater Lansing region. Connell-Marsh said that the Department of Natural of Resources also requires the deer to be released within 10 miles of her facility, leaving her little leeway to adjust her operations.

And now she’s urging city officials to take their “nonsensical” deer killing plans elsewhere.

“I know that the deer killed at the Aquatic Center will include deer we’ve raised here,” she said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me why the city would continue to keep this area on its list.”

Next month’s plans mark the second round of deer removal in East Lansing. After tracking a rising level of deer-vehicle crashes over the last several years, the City Council voted in 2020 to allow lethal removal for the first time. Last year’s cull resulted in at least 65 deer being shot and killed in city parks, with about 2,000 lbs. of venison donated to the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

This year’s plans call for up to 100 deer — and likely more than 3,500 lbs. of donated venison.

City officials have cited lasting neighborhood concerns to justify the continuation of the deer removal efforts in 2022. Parks Director Cathy DeShambo specifically pointed to concerns about damaged landscaping, the potential for disease — like Lyme disease and Chronic Wasting disease — to spread, as well as an average of more than 40 car-deer crashes every year.

Because it was such a controversial topic among conservationists and animal lovers when it was first introduced last winter, Mayor Pro-Tem Jessy Gregg said the city has intentionally hid details about exactly when and where it will occur in 2022 to dodge any potential protests. She also said those protests could be “unpleasant but also dangerous,” reported East Lansing Info.

DeShambo confirmed the Aquatic Center as a future hunting zone, but didn’t say exactly when.

She also said that she had been made aware of the concerns stemming from the Nature Nook’s close proximity to the deer removal zone on Abbott Road, but the city — at least at this point — has no plans to change course before the sharpshooters arrive next week in East Lansing.

DeShambo also told FOX 47 News that some local parents have been so alarmed over an “overpopulation” of deer that they’ve been afraid to let their children play in their backyards — a remark she later clarified to imply concerns over ticks and disease-filled scat deer leave behind.

“Nottingham is located in an area where deer can travel in any direction once released,” DeShambo said. “They are surrounded by considerable open land. The Aquatic Center property, which is approximately 63 acres, is not adjacent to this facility and it is speculative to assume that the deer released are, one for one, the same deer removed from the Aquatic Center.”

Connell-Marsh speculated that all of the deer on the property were rehabilitated at Nottingham.

DeShambo also noted that Abbott Road has been identified by city officials as a “high-traffic” problem area that included at least 11 crashes that involved deer over the last “several years.”

“Residents also have legitimate concern for disease, especially tick-borne illness,” she added.

City officials also noted that East Lansing isn’t the only municipality that could wind up killing rehabilitated deer released from Nottingham. Neighboring Meridian Township also announced plans for deer removal efforts next year. Hunting is also allowed on nearby state land in Bath.

City Manager George Lahanas and Mayor Ron Bacon didn’t respond to emails for this story, though Connell-Marsh said she hopes a meeting with Councilwoman Dana Watson next week will help to change the plans. If not, she plans to take her story to local TV stations next week.

“I think the whole thing is cruel and inhumane, but I also know I’m not going to be able to stop this whole thing from happening,” Connell-Marsh explained. “I can’t save all the herds in East Lansing, I just don’t want them to shoot the deer — really our deer — that end up in that area.”

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