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Judge says Ann Arbor's deer shoot can go ahead, for now

deer in forest
Rodney Campbell
Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A federal judge says the city of Ann Arbor can go ahead with its deer cull – at least, for now.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow denied a request for a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the city’s deer cull.

That request came from a passionate group of Ann Arbor citizens, the Ann Arbor Residents for Public Safety, several of whom have filed a lawsuit against the city and federal government to stop the shoot. The defendants they've named in the suit include a host of state and federal officials, including DNR employees, Governor Rick Snyder, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. 

This comes as Ann Arbor has hired USDA sharpshooters to kill up to 100 deer this winter in local parks, at night. The city argues it’s a safe and effective way to curb the deer population, which officials say has reached harmful levels.

But many residents don't like the way the shoot has been rolled out, saying it feels dangerous to have guns going off in city parks at night. 

At the hearing Monday afternoon, Ann Arbor city attorneys Stephen Postema and Thomas Kent said while the USDA agents had started preparations for the deer cull, including site visits, the shooting itself hadn’t actually begun yet.

Postema told Michigan Radio he couldn’t comment as to when the shooting would begin, nor could the city tell residents exactly when and where the shooting was happening, in order to protect the sharpshooters.

City Attorney Thomas Kent told the court that Ann Arbor’s permit clearly states that the sharpshooters won’t fire guns within 450 feet of an occupied building without written permission of the resident, nor would the sharpshooters be using “silencers,” as alleged by the plaintiffs.

The hearing did not go well for the plaintiff’s attorney, Barry Powers. Judge Tarnow repeatedly criticized Powers, saying he hadn’t prepared, done his research, listened to the other side – nor did he convince the court, Judge Tarnow said, that anyone’s lives or federal rights were in imminent danger.

“You’re in the wrong court,” Tarnow said when Powers argued that Ann Arbor’s deer cull permits violated state regulations. “That’s why they have state courts.”

Powers pushed back, arguing that the city’s attorneys hadn’t been forthcoming with information that the plaintiffs had requested about the basic facts of the deer shoot, or whether an environmental assessment has been done.

"They didn't even tell us about the 450 feet rule until now," he said. 

But the defendant’s attorneys said that information was all publicly available online.  

Still, the judge is giving Powers a few days to amend his complaint, and ordering the two sides’ attorneys to sit down and talk about the facts of the deer cull operation as planned. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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