Shawnee Mission, Kansas – Jason Miller, clean cut with glasses and dark-hair, can come across as a humorless evangelist for animal rights. But at last week's protest outside the Johnson County Park Board, the devout vegan and self-described animal liberationist made a joke about weather he had a day job:
Miller: "Yeah I do.. animal activism doesn't have a lot of money. Animals don't have a lot of money.......my clients so to speak."
A native Kansas Citian, Miller became frustrated with the lack of activity around animal rights. He formed BITE CLUB OF KC in July. The protest here to save the deer in Shawnee Mission Park is Bite Club's first campaign.
Miller: "We don't have a deer problem, we have a people problem. The people have overdeveloped. We've pushed the deer out and they have nowhere to go.They're landlocked. And now the people living close to park are upset because the deer are eating their tulips,flowers, and bushes. Well, those people knew when they bought their property they were going to be living near wildlife. They need to learn to co exist."
Others are quick to point out this problem is more complicated. Suburban sprawl is blurring boundaries between urban and rural landscape in practically every state from Maine to California, and deer are losing habitat as a result.
Lockwood: "A lot of people want a little piece of the hill country in Texas, Central Texas, and that's where you see a lot of development going on especially around Austin."
Mitch Lockwood is with the Texas Department of Wildlife. He says when people move to these places and find too many deer, they read up and do what they think will drive the deer away - put in "deer resistant" plants.
Lockwood: "Well in these communities,suburbs of Austin, San Antonio, even other places, no such thing as a deer resistant plant. There are far too many deer for the amount of groceries available and they start to eat things one would never imagine."
Texas is one of the few remaining states that will allow communities to relocate deer. Most,including Kansas, won't, due to fear of a contagious neurological disorder called chronic wasting disease. Similar to Mad Cow Disease and fatal for deer and elk, scientists aren't certain of it's impact on humans. Lockwood also says up to 70% of the deer can die from the the stress of capturing and transporting them.
In the upscale Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills, the mushrooming deer population has caused another common problem.
Johnson: "This is Capt Mike Johnson with the Oakland Hills substation. The city of Rochester Hills is number one in the state of Michigan for car deer crashes. We've been number one for probably nine of the last ten years."
In addition, residents surrounding the large green parks and two colleges in Rochester Hills are increasingly annoyed deer are snacking on their their flowers and and trees.
So in January,law enforcement killed about a dozen deer with rifles. Animal rights activist Italia Milan was among the protestors that afternoon. She videotaped some of the blood and gore and posted it on U Tube:
Milan: "They chose a park that was close to subdivision and the street. This was local police snipers. It tore the community apart and it did not bring anything positive.It was a DISASTER."
After the protest and posting , the city council appointed a committee of residents on both sides of the issue, including Italia Millan. After studying the effectiveness of the cull, the committee recommended the city council suspend killing as a method of managing the deer problem for the next year.
Milan: "They decided for NO Lethal Methods for the next year. Community came together at last meeting. Everybody will volunteer to educate other residents, maintain the reflectors if we decide the reflectors."
Sterilization is another non-lethal method for managing herds, says wildlife biologist Jim Boone. You can sterilize deer three ways; putting contraceptive in their feed, shooting them with a contraceptive implant, or doing surgery.
Johnson County discounts this method saying it would cost up to 800 dollars per animal and take a dozen years to reduce the herd. Sterilization IS a costly and slow measure, says Boone, but if communities want deer, they either have to accommodate the animals whose lives they've altered, or accept that killing is part of the natural world.
Boone: "So if a community is really thinking about doing this, they'd be better off to go with the hunt and reduce numbers to some level they think manageable,then go with sterilization after that."
Jason Miller and his colleagues with Bite Club KC say they will continue to fight the deer cull in Shawnee Mission Park up to the planned event later this fall.