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Highland Heights enters into agreement with USDA for culling of up to 100 deer, infrared count

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 10/15/2020 By Jeff Piorkowski, cleveland.com

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- City Council unanimously approved Tuesday (Oct. 13) legislation that will allow for an infrared deer count and culling in the coming months.

Highland Heights will enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the culling of between 60-100 deer. Highland Heights Police Chief James Cook said that the culling could begin in mid-January, and that the deer count may take place in November, or when enough leaves have fallen to allow for the best possible count. The count, he said, should be conducted, at the latest, by mid-December.

The USDA did an infrared count nearly a year ago and found that there were approximately 286 deer in Highland Heights, for an extremely high average of 55 per square mile. Using sharpshooters, the USDA went on to cull 40 deer within hours on public lands in February.

The culling season extends from November through March 31, during cold weather when deer meat can be preserved for local food banks. Mayor Chuck Brunello, Jr., said that February’s culling resulted in 1,800 pounds of meat being donated to a local food bank.

“This year (the USDA will be culling) on public and private lands,” Cook said. “The private lands would be industrial properties or large natural areas that have a private owner, but nobody living there.”

The culling, if the USDA’s schedule allows, could take place earlier, possibly as early as November. While the sharpshooters are in town, they could also work in Lyndhurst and South Euclid, both of whom are also utilizing the USDA’s services. Lyndhurst is also having an infrared count done, while South Euclid had such a count performed in March. Cook said factors such as the weather, complications from COVID-19, or other unforeseen events could play a role in altering the count or culling schedules.

When asked about the number of 2020 incidents involving deer to which police have been called, Cook said, “The number is pretty much similar to what it was in 2019. I told council last year (the first in which Highland Heights conducted a count and culling) that this program is going to be a five-year program.”

The city is paying the USDA $40,000 for the count and culling, but Brunello said that cost could be less, depending on how fast work is completed.

“Council is in agreement that this needs to be done and felt that this agency (USDA) is a good and experienced agency that will do the work safely and effectively,” Council President Lisa Stickan said of council’s approval of the USDA agreement.

Brunello has led the way in starting talks with fellow Mayors Georgine Welo, of South Euclid, and Patrick Ward, of Lyndhurst, to combine deer management efforts. Last week, Mayfield Heights Mayor Anthony DiCicco joined the discussions. DiCicco said on Monday (Oct. 12) that he is now talking with the USDA about an infrared count and culling in that city.

CARES Act money

Brunello said that Highland Heights will soon receive about $300,00 in federal CARES Act COVID-19-related funding. This is the third round of payments, disbursed through the state of Ohio and Cuyahoga County. In the first two rounds, Highland Heights received a combined amount of approximately $120,000.

The third round allows for broader uses of the money. “We’re going to spend a good amount of the money on fire department needs,” Brunello said. "The (HHFD) Chief (William Turner) has a list of $157,000 of expenses, all going towards COVID-19 (related needs).

“We’re also putting it towards a lot of touchless things to help stop the spread of germs, like touchless toilets and sinks in the (city hall) restrooms.” On Tuesday, council approved legislation for the purchase of censors to allow the doors at the Highland Heights Community Center to open without being touched. Brunello said that he and council are in the early stages of discussions about using some of the CARES Act money for adding audio/visual capabilities to City Council chambers.

Wilson Mills and Bishop roads

Brunello said he began Tuesday, with council, the process of improving the intersection of Wilson Mills and Bishop roads.

“The signals there are old, some have original parts,” he said. “There’s been concern there about the traffic flow. We’re going to put in new signals and widen the intersection. That’s something we’re going to do in 2021. We planned to do it this year, but (COVID-related) things got in the way.”

Wilson Mills resurfacing

Council approved Tuesday legislation that will allow the city to cooperate with Cuyahoga County for the resurfacing, curb to curb, of Wilson Mills Road, from Lander Road to Alpha Drive.

The county is paying for 80 percent of the project. Brunello said Highland Heights is also partnering with Mayfield Village and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) to pay for the work. Highland Heights expects to pay for 5 percent of the work, or about $100,000-$125,000. The cost estimates are not yet clear, as the job is not slated to be done until 2023.

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