Deer Problem? Study Used In Count is Flawed (Letter to the Editor)

Writer said method used in deer overpopulation survey is flawed; EAAB didn't follow protocol.

The Avon Lake Environmental Affairs Advisory Board (“EAAB”), consisting largely of private citizens of Avon Lake, was first established in 1994. Since that time, it has advised l on a wide range of environmental concerns which do or may face the city. One recent issue facing Avon Lake, according to some, is whether there is a deer population problem and, if so, what to do about it. After at least eighteen (18) months of attempting to assess this issue, the EAAB has stated, in writing, that the “estimated population” of deer within the city limits of Avon Lake is “greater than 250.”  EAAB has used this alleged “population” number as the basis to (1) conclude that there are “too many deer in Avon Lake” and (2) recommend that bow hunting be permitted within the city limits to reduce this number. What has recently come to light, however, is the flawed methodology used by the EAAB.

The EEAB utilized ” to arrive at the above “deer population” estimate within Avon Lake. Instead of hiring professionals to conduct such a survey, the EAAB members attempted to conduct this survey themselves. They drove around the City in teams of two (2), which largely consisted of EAAB members, their spouses and their friends. These groups shined spotlights into undisclosed and unidentified areas while seated in a car. This was done during three timeframes: January of 2011 (12 trips), June of 2011 (6 trips) and November of 2011 (6 trips). The various teams claimed to have spotted anywhere between 0 – 73 deer on these 24 total trips. The EAAB selected the highest single daily count (73) and multiplied it by 3, which equals 219. They then seemingly added an additional 50 or so to that number to arrive at the “deer population” figure of “greater than 250.” 

What the EEAB has failed to inform the public is that “spotlighting surveys” are not intended to identify a deer “population” count or to estimate deer population or density. The recognized method of obtaining an accurate deer population count is through an aerial survey. An aerial survey can be done visually or with the assistance of infrared cameras. ODNR utilizes both of these methods for estimating Ohio’s deer herd numbers. ODNR does not, however, utilize “spotlighting” for this purpose. The aerial surveys are done in the late fall/ early winter after the leaves have fallen off the trees and preferably while there is a few inches of snow on the ground (so that footprints can be followed as well). Certain professionals have also conducted infrared ground counts to arrive at deer population estimates. These methods are used to establish a “baseline” or an actual deer population count.

“Spotlighting” is intended to be used after a baseline deer population count has been established through one of the above-recognized methods. The spotlighting counts are performed each year thereafter so that population trends can be identified (i.e. are the numbers growing or declining) relative to an accurately established baseline. If performed yearly in a consistent manner, population deviations from the baseline can be identified through spotlighting. For example, the city of Solon, when it started its deer culling program, had an aerial survey performed so as to get an accurate count of the actual number of deer within its city limits. For the years thereafter, a form of ground counting was performed to see if the baseline number was growing or declining. The Avon Lake EAAB, however, skipped the first step and went right to the spotlighting, which means that we still have no reliable estimate of the deer population within Avon Lake.

Perhaps even more disturbing than EAAB’s public representation that their spotlighting established a “deer population estimate” is the mysterious extrapolation that is used on its data. The formula EAAB applied was “# of deer seen x 3 + 50 = estimate of deer population." The ODNR biologist who was consulted on this issue had never heard of this formula, nor could this writer find anything resembling this formula in the wildlife literature. Studies conducted by professionals warn against using spotlighting data as anything other than a “reference.” White-tailed Deer in Oxford Ohio: Population Assessment and Implications for the Community - University of Miami Institute of Environmental Sciences, Public Service Project 2007-4.

If the formula itself was not bad enough, the EAAB the selected the single highest daily count for the entire year (73) to plug into this formula. Recall that the spotlighting surveys identified deer numbers ranging from 0 - 73, with the average number of deer sighted per spotlighting trip being 31. So the EAAB’s methodology for its “greater than 250 population estimate” was actually “max. # deer spotted during the entire year (73) x 3 + 50 = 269.”   Interestingly, Solon, after it conducted its initial aerial survey, used a multiplier of 1.55 to its surveys to monitor population trends. This means that EAAB’s formula would result in more than double the number of deer that Solon would identify based upon the same data!   EAAB’s formula appears to be calculated to significantly over-estimate the number of deer in Avon Lake in order to justify its clearly voiced desire to allow bow hunting within city limits.

The EAAB’s spotlighting survey, unfortunately, cannot even be used for its proper purpose, which is comparison with subsequent spotlight surveys to identify trends in population. This is because the surveyors failed to identify exactly where they surveyed and how many hours they spent per survey. This dooms any subsequent survey because there is simply no way to reliably replicate what was done in 2011, either in location or time spent. EAAB, for whatever reason, did document items such as barometric pressure and relative humidity, which, will not assist in consistent survey replication in future years.

Lastly, EEAB did not even follow its own protocol for the “spotlighting survey.”  Its protocol required that “the study must be done with no rain, snow or heavy wind since these affect visibility and may drive deer deeper into the woodland areas.” Despite this directive, the EAAB members, with family and friends in tow, proceeded to survey during wind conditions as high as 33 mph and during thunderstorms! It is unknown what, if any, other deviations from protocol occurred.

The entire notion of city-wide “deer population” estimates as a basis for identifying a “problem” also ignores the fact that such estimates, according to experts, serves no purpose in identifying (1) whether there is a “deer problem” or (2) what the potential “solution” should be. While this is not the primary subject of this letter,  experts opine that the “solution” to any actual “problem” should be handled in that specific area, not city-wide. For example, the Deer-Vehicle Accidents (“DVA”) in Avon Lake occur primarily in the northeast quadrant of town and in areas where the speed limit is 35 mph. The proposed viable “hunting grounds” are primarily in the southwest quadrant of town. Because deer are highly territorial (home range of between .5 – 2.0 miles), hunting deer in the southwest quadrant of Avon Lake will do little, if anything, to address the alleged “problems” in the northeast quadrant.

This writer readily acknowledges that the EAAB provides a valuable service to the City of Avon Lake and is made up largely of good, hard-working people. This writer also wants to make clear that this is not an indictment on the City of Avon Lake, its officials or its City Council, who are simply relying upon the EAAB, in good faith, for accurate information. It is unfortunate, however,  how the “deer population estimates” were performed and how they were portrayed to the residents of Avon Lake. It is equally unfortunate that the City, after eighteen months of study, has not been provided with a reliable indication of how many deer are within its city limits. Any recommending to kill a significant number of deer within Avon Lake should not even be considered unless and until the EAAB (or perhaps someone else) is able to provide accurate answers to certain fundamental questions. So far, that has not happened.

Daniel R. Haude

Avon Lake

Cheryl Slater May 14, 2012 at 08:34 PM
So the truth has finally come out. I always knew the numbers were flawed. It's about time the lies were exposed. Thank you, Daniel. This should put the issue to rest.
Kristi May 14, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I am truly disappointed that the EEAB would unanimously (9-0) recommend to Council passing an ordinance that permits: (1) hunters walking around in our city shooting arrows within 100 feet of our backyards; and (2) the killing of numerous deer, based on a complete lack of accurate information. How about a little research and fact-checking before taking such a drastic measure?
Kristi May 14, 2012 at 09:04 PM
In my last post, I stated within 100 feet of our backyards. I meant to state within 101 feet.
Jennifer Fenderbosch May 15, 2012 at 03:29 AM
The EAAB and the City did not have funds for an aerial, infra-red fly over, hiring a biologist or firm. In discussing the situation with Scot Peters with ODNR, he gave permission for the Spotlight Survey. This was prior to Geof Westerfield assignment to his present position. The worksheets that the observers used to perform the Spotlight Survey in Jan 2011 were emailed to you. The same route was used for each and every spotlighting event 2 hours prior to dawn and 2 hours after sun set. The Avon Lake Police Dept provided hand held LED spotlights. After the dates were identified, none of them were missed due to weather because the fact that deer are affected by certain weather and not others was important to document. The information was shared with the Natural History Museum which acts as a clearing house for university studies in a number of states. Along with the route, the date, time (beginning and end time), name of observers (the Police Dept Driver was not listed), temperature, wind (speed and direction), precipitation (rain, snow, ice, fog), and humidity were noted. The number of deer and other wildlife were listed at the location they were seen. The EAAB provided volunteers. As your email to Geoffrey Westerfield indicated, the spotlight survey needs to be performed annually in the same fashion as the original in order to build a data base of information that will trigger indicators of change or status quo with regard to the number within the deer herd.
Jennifer Fenderbosch May 15, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Traditionally during a spotlight survey, people leave the vehicle and walk into the woods as they perform the study. We stayed in vehicles with one person shining a light out of one side and another person shining a light out of the other side of the vehicle as we were driven along the route. We were told that we would see less than 1/3 of the deer that are on the property because we were driving mostly along perimeters of property and the light would not penetrate beyond a certain distance. Kopf Reservation was an exception because the Police were able to drive the paths. Remember, it was dark so residents were not using the paths during the times we were on them for the survey. We were told to take the highest number of deer seen in one night as the qualifying number. This number we were told represented less than 1/3 of the available deer because we were unable to see deeply into the wooded area due to the limitation of the spot lights. I commend the volunteers who bundled up during cold, wet, snowing weather and drove for 2 hours with the windows down counting deer and other wildlife. Because the sun rises and sets at different times throughout the year, the volunteers needed to alter their availability to perform the spotlighting when most people were asleep. When the spotlight event was discussed at Council meetings, these volunteers came forward to assist.
Jennifer Fenderbosch May 15, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Avon Lake is a great community of people who want to help with solutions to challenges. The discussions about deer management are emotional discussions. All of us on Council are doing our best to weigh all options. Like most discussions, not everyone will agree with the solution. But isn't this part of the greatness of America where we can discuss these topics openly? An independent study was performed by resident David Dibbell, the Deer Whisperer, who takes lovely photographs of the wildlife around Avon Lake. On April 24, 2012 he walked one mile from Route 83 to Jaycox and from Walker to Electric counting and documenting 103 deer. If any resident would like to discuss this topic with me, please contact me at 440-933-4644.
Jen G May 15, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Unbelievable! Thank you for this article. I knew the method they used was a joke. There is no way that we have over 250 deer in Avon Lake. I do not believe for a second that ALL of the council members are looking at all options. It is VERY, VERY clear that some have already decided that slaughtering the deer is the only option. Bow-hunting should be a LAST resort, not a first one!
Kristi May 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Thanks, Councilperson Fenderbosch for the explanation of the spotlight survey. Regardless, however, the survey is not to be used to establish a baseline deer population. You have not disputed that. With respect to Mr. Dibbell (and I have seen some of his photographs - they are beautiful), his "study" is not an accurate way to estimate the deer population either. My husband and I walked in the Kopf Reservation just last week and we only saw 6 deer. Is that considered a "study", and if so, whose "study" do you choose to accept?
Kristi May 15, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Has anyone considered the dangers to the residents? I am scared to death to have bow hunters shooting arrows near where my children play. I realize that the ordinance requires hunters to remain at least 100' from residential property lines and to shoot away from those lines if within 100'. But, A CROSSBOW CAN EASILY SHOOT 1000' and is expressly authorized by the ordinance. So, for example, the Kopf property on Walker Rd. near Waterside Crossings development, is eligible for hunting. Many of the homes on Ambleside Drive are directly adjacent to the would-be hunting grounds. A hunter is permitted by the ordinance to shoot his crossbow - which again can shoot 1000' - right in the direction of those backyards.
Kristi May 15, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Not only that, but I believe that hunting would be going on for 5 months out of the year. 5 months out of the year for Heaven's sake! Residents - like me - would be scared for their children's safety almost 1/2 the time. I don't want to live like that. I want to know that my children are safe when they playing in their own backyard or walking in their community.
Kristi May 15, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Some people just keep stating "we have too many deer, we have too many deer". My question is too many deer for what? We have too many deer to be able to also have lush wooded areas throughout the city? So what. I'd rather have sparse wooded areas that bow hunters. We have too many deer for residents to grow certain types of flowers? So what. Plant a different flower, buy deer netting or repellent for $20.00 at Lowe's. Who in their right mind would choose bringing hunters into our city to save their flowers? if the issue of deer-vehicle accidents (and I would add that there have been no injuries that I know of), then treat it as a traffic issue by using fencing, strieter lights, etc. But do not choose to risk our safety and allow the killing of deer. It makes no sense.
Jen G May 15, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Perfectly put, Kristi! This whole thing is absurd! There ARE other options to deal with car accidents and the "precious" flowers!
Nicole Davis May 15, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I'm sorry Jennifer, but how exactly is this scientific? The highest number of all the surveys was used (which was more than twice the average # of dear seen), how can that be an accurate number of 1/3 of the population? I do thank those who went out in the evening and early morning to make these observations, but the committee was hardly impartial as there was at least one member who wanted to cull ALL of the deer in Avon Lake. It seems the determination to cull the deer came before the observation of the number of deer in the city. Doesn't that seem a little backwards?
Andrea S May 15, 2012 at 03:00 PM
As far as the deer-vehicle accidents, most of Avon Lake is 25 - 35 mph, or even less due to all the schools. If you actually drive the speed limit you have plenty of time to see the deer and either slow down or stop. If you're going slow enough and still hit the deer they usually just bounce off and keep walking with nearly no damage to your car. Addtionally, everyone knows which streets have the most deer (Lear South of Walker, Electric, etc) and what hours they are generally out (dawn / dusk) so just be extra careful during those times! Let's wait and see what happens this winter. We had such a mild winter this year that the population didn't die back as it should have and as a result it's too big and the deer are starving (just look at how emaciated they are). As cruel as it sounds they'll probably die off this coming winter if it's a cold one and they don't get any healthier. Avon Lake is too small to allow hunting. If that's the only option the Council will consider than limit it to people such as SWAT and only a couple of days (which should be well advertised so people can be safe). 5 months is too long and a bow hunting permit shouldn't be issued to just anyone (I'm not sure how they decide who gets a permit...).
Cheryl Slater May 15, 2012 at 04:07 PM
According to Mike Tonkovich, Chief Biologist for the state of Ohio, there are no starving deer in Ohio. During the winter months, the deer's metabolism goes down and they don't need as much food. It's normal for them to loose weight in the winter. Right now they are loosing their winter coats and may look thinner than they should but actually, overall, they are a healthy herd.
Kristi May 15, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I think you are absolutely right, Nicole. Some people decided that they wanted to either: (1) reduce the # of deer; or (2) allow bow hunting in Avon Lake well before this whole thing began. Now, those same people are "finding" evidence to support their agenda.
Amy May 16, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Taking a walk and counting the number of deer you observe is not a "study". I would also ask if David Dibbell is for or against bow hunting. In my personal opinion, this city is entirely too residentially dense to allow bow hunting. As others have said, I too would fear for the safety of my children if bow hunting is allowed. I think legal bow hunting will deter people and businesses from moving to Avon Lake. If allowed, it would make me re-think our decision to move here. I don't understand why this issue is being pushed so hard by Mrs. Fenderbosch and other council members. What about economic development? We are far too reliant on the Ford Plant for tax dollars and the Genon closing provides lots of opportunities and options. Please, council, spend more time on important issues instead of deer management.
Kristi May 16, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Amy, but you wondered why Councilperson Fenderbosch is pushing this so hard. I'm not sure if this is true, and am not saying this is the reason, but I did hear from a reliable source that her husband and son are both bow hunters.
Jen G May 17, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Oh it's true! They are definitely avid bow hunters.


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