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Lansing — Ann Arbor can continue to sterilize deer but the state would be prohibited from issuing new sterilization permits until 2022 under legislation approved early Thursday morning by Michigan's Republican-led House.

Sponsoring Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, said his bill was inspired by "sportsmen across the state" who "have an issue with sterilization when hunting is the primary tool recognized for the management of game species, which white tail deer are a game species in Michigan."

Instead of sterilization, the bill would allow “urban areas with a high concentration of deer” to create deer management zones in which an increased number of deer could be killed as well as areas where the proximity of firearm hunting distance could be shortened.

The bill also requires the state Department of Natural Resources to submit reports by December 2020 and March 2022 on sterilization permits issued prior to when the law took effect. The measure was approved in a 67-42 vote at around 2 a.m., the 16th hour of a marathon lame-duck meeting.

The deer sterilization debate picked up in recent years because of a program in Ann Arbor, where the DNR issued a permit in 2017 to a private contractor to manage large deer populations through culling and sterilization.

The “research” permit was the first ever given by the DNR because closely located homes in the city made shooting the deer nearly impossible.

Under the 2017 permit, Ann Arbor sterilized 54 female deer and culled another 100 deer.

The legislation, now headed to the Senate for consideration next week in the final days of the lame-duck session, would prohibit the state from issuing any other local deer sterilization permits for roughly three-and-a-half years.

"The communities do not own the deer," Cole said. "The deer are owned equally by everyone in Michigan."

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