Judge affirms deer-kill program in Mill Creek MetroParks

YOUNGSTOWN — Judge Anthony Donofrio of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court has affirmed the ruling of his magistrate that the Mill Creek MetroParks’ deer reduction plan is authorized by law.

Magistrate Nicole Butler, who works for Donofrio, granted summary judgment to the MetroParks in February, after the MetroParks asked for the lawsuit filed against it by a group of deer supporters to be dismissed without need of a trial.

The ruling, released Monday, states that “After an independent review and consideration of the facts in evidence, as well as a review of the magistrate’s decision, this court finds no error of fact of law or fact or other defect, and affirms and adopts the magistrate’s decision.”

In an email Tuesday, Marc Dann, attorney for the deer group, said he plans to “get a notice of appeal on file by the end of the week.” That appeal will go to the 7th District Court of Appeals.

The deer group has argued that MetroParks did not have the legal authority to carry out its deer reduction plan, which resulted in 204 deer being killed and removed from the MetroParks from Oct. 1, 2023, to late January. The MetroParks has said it expects to resume the reductions this fall.

The plaintiffs in the suit are Donald Allen, Heidi Behnke, Paul Chicone and James Cliff, who initially asked to have the deer reduction plan stopped before it started. However, Butler ruled against that preliminary injunction last September following a hearing in common pleas court.

It included testimony from the plaintiffs and from individuals from the MetroParks, Ohio Division of Wildlife and Denny Malloy, a Trumbull County commissioner who has worked as a regional director for the nonprofit deer management and conservation organization Whitetails Unlimited for over 20 years.

The deer group has contended that killing deer in the MetroParks would result in the loss of enjoyment of the plaintiffs’ yards, “as they will be forced to stay inside their homes for fear of being struck by a stray bullet or arrow.” The deer reductions involved hunters selected through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hunting lottery and deer removals by U.S. Department of Agriculture-employed sharpshooters.

The ruling notes that the deer group contends that the reduction plan is an “inhumane way of reducing wildlife populations, and it is contrary to law.”

But the MetroParks “contends there is an overpopulation of whitetail deer in the park that is supported by the deer density numbers, but more so by the ecological impact observed in the park,” according to the ruling.

In his objections to Magistrate Butler’s ruling, Dann cited Ohio Revised Code 1545.09 in saying Ohio law requires the MetroParks and other park districts to “‘protect’ and ‘preserve’ the park’s natural life” and that “any action taken beyond what the legislature granted (to the MetroParks) should not be permitted by this court.”

Donofrio’s ruling cites a ruling by the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals in the In Defense of Deer v. Cleveland Metroparks case in which the 8th District affirmed the denial of a temporary restraining order that would have stopped a deer control program in Cleveland.

In that case, the ruling did not even mention the statute cited by Dann, Donofrio’s ruling states. “This suggests that the (8th District court) believes that a park district has authority to implement a deer management program as approved by the Division of Wildlife irrespective” of the statute cited by Dann. “Accordingly, this court is not convinced that Mill Creek’s authority is dependent upon the interpretation” of the statute cited by Dann.

But even if the statute cited by Dann is relevant, “the park is still authorized to implement the plan as presented,” Donofrio ruled.

Have an interesting story? Contact Ed Runyan by email at erunyan@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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