MetroParks to defend deer-reduction plan
YOUNGSTOWN — The Mill Creek MetroParks says a lawsuit aimed at stopping the parks from carrying out a deer-reduction program cites no “ordinance, case and / or statute in support of its position.”
A MetroParks filing Monday states that the the plaintiffs allege the MetroParks don’t have the legal authority to carry out a deer-management program, “despite permission granted by the (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) Division of Wildlife.”
The plaintiffs, four individuals who say they live adjacent to the park system, and the MetroParks will participate in a preliminary injunction hearing today before Magistrate Nicole Alexander of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Alexander works for Judge Anthony Donofrio.
The plaintiffs requested the injunction, asking that Alexander preliminarily stop what the plaintiffs called the MetroParks “Deer Slaughter Plan.”
The filing says the deer-reduction plan was scheduled to start in late September and without Alexander taking steps immediately, the deer reduction could begin right away and there could be damages or personal injury to the plaintiffs.
The arguments the plaintiffs made for stopping the program were ruled against in a 2000 Cuyahoga County lawsuit filed by a group called In Defense of Deer against the Cleveland MetroParks, the filing states.
In that case, an Ohio appeals court ruled In Defense of Deer “did not have the right to pursue (legal) action as it related to protection, preservation, propagation and management of the wild deer located within the park.”
In order to obtain a preliminary injunction in the Mahoning County case, the plaintiffs would have to prove several things, one of which is that there is a substantial likelihood that they will prevail in their primary arguments against the deer hunt. The MetroParks filing argues they will not prove that.
First, the plaintiffs allege that the MetroParks do not have the legal authority to carry out a deer management program, saying the Ohio legislature never conferred that right to the park district.
In the Cleveland MetroParks case, the plaintiff citizens were “denied in their request for a temporary restraining order from acting under a deer damage control permit based on substantial damage to park property and the ecosystem,” the filing states.
Under Ohio law, the chief of the Division of Wildlife has the “authority and control in all matters pertaining to the protection, preservation propagation, possession and management of the wild animals, including regulatory power.”
Additionally, the Legislature “specifically granted the wildlife division the power and authority to enforce by proper legal action or proceeding the laws of this state and division rules for the protection, preservation, propagation and management of wild animals,” and “adopt and carry out into effect such measures as it considers necessary in the performance of its duties,” the filing states.
The Cleveland MetroParks case involved a proposal to kill 300 deer. The Cleveland MetroParks argued that the deer reduction program was needed because the “ecosystem in the reservations was being severely impacted by an ever-growing population of white-tailed deer.”
The trial court denied the temporary restraining order and dismissed the complaint in that case, “reasoning that the permit issued by the Division of Wildlife was meant to allow Cleveland MetroParks to protect its property and the ecosystem from further actual and substantial damage.”
That ruling addresses similar issues as the Mill Creek MetroParks as they will be — “protecting biodiversity and preventing a negative impact on the environment caused by the increasing white-tailed deer population.”
The filing states that the plaintiffs also will not be able to prove several other requirements to get a preliminary injunction. It also declares that all of the requirements have to be met for such an inunction to be issued.
In addition to the issue raised in the MetroParks filings, the plaintiffs argue in their lawsuit that the deer-
reduction plan is based on a deer count commissioned by the park system that used “infrared signatures detected at night via aerial surveillance, rather than actual visual sightings of white-tail deer in the park or by ‘tagging’ each individual deer.”
Because of the method used, the park district “does not possess an actual or verifiable deer count” and “utilized this flawed count to justify its approval of a plan to significantly reduce the population of white tail deer” “through slaughter — killing them via bow hunting and sharpshooting beginning in late September 2023.”
The MetroParks Board approved a deer-reduction plan at its April 10 meeting.
Lee Frey, MetroParks Board chairman, said at that meeting, “the number of deer in Mill Creek MetroParks has reached a critical level. The numbers were astounding and showed that there were 19 times more deer” than the park can sustain “without causing biological damage.”