Many cities in British Columbia have been dealing with an infestation of a certain mammal.
It’s not rats or racoons or squirrels, its deer.
However, these deer are not like your average wild deer, they are urban deer and they’re causing a lot of problems for cities all around British Columbia. They are feeding on our gardens and ornamental plants, attacking our pets, and getting hit more often on our roads. So why are these deer choosing to live in cities rather than their natural environment in the wild? It is likely due to a couple of key issues.
Cities typically lack natural predators that tend to prey on deer. Although deer, bears, and racoons seem to have no problem coming into town, cougars and wolves are quite a bit less likely to venture in; they don’t seem to like being too close to us. With no natural predators, deer populations have been allowed to increase in town. Another issue is that there is a lot for them to eat in town more so than in the forest. Whether it’s our gardens, fruit trees, or flowers, food is plentiful and easy to access. To make matters worse, some people like seeing wildlife so close that they are intentionally feeding them. Given these factors, if you were a deer would you want to leave?
With these urban deer comes a multitude of problems. With more deer wandering around town, there is a higher likelihood of deer-car collisions. Another issue is deer-human conflicts.
For example, this summer in Greater Victoria there were multiple cases of overprotective deer actively attacking people who were too close to their fawns. A predator like a cougar that follows deer into town is also likely to turn to see our dogs and cats as food as they are easier to catch and more plentiful than deer.
As such, cougars in town that might control deer numbers end up being destroyed. So, is there a permanent solution? Sure, shoot any deer found in town. That solution is much easier said than done and not always acceptable to the public. The city of Oak Bay started to use birth control drugs to try to limit deer population growth. The thinking is that they will leave the existing deer in place to keep others from coming in, but in the meanwhile, stop the population from growing from within.
Another solution is a culling. Invermere, Grand Forks, and Elkford have received provincial funding to do a cull. Cranbrook has already taken 15 deer in February of 2016. Likely this is just a temporary solution as there are more deer on the outskirts ready to take their place.
For now, there are a number of things you can do to help keep yourself, your property, and the deer safe. First off if you encounter a deer, give it some space especially if you think it has a fawn; if you are walking a dog keep it on a leash. If you value your garden and know deer roam your area, install a tall fence.
According to Wild Safe BC, a fence that is 2.4 meters in height will be sufficient to prevent deer from entering your garden. Deer are great jumpers, so the fence needs to be high enough. So, if you see one of these urban deer, it’s safer to just let it be. If you think it shouldn’t be in town, do your part by reducing the attractants that support those urban deer.
Jeremy Nieuwenhuis and Jason Carmichael are second-year students in the Recreation, Fish and Wildlife program at Selkirk College in Castlegar.