Editor’s note: This is the second part of a story on deer agression that appeared in the July 11th edition of The Valley Echo.
A cull may not be an effective solution to Invermere’s deer problem, according to the mayor of City of Grand Forks, Brian Taylor. The city, located in the West Kootenay region just north of the Canada-U.S. border, has a human population of about 4,000 within its city limits, and a deer population of about 300. He said Grand Forks was the first community in B.C. to establish a deer management committee.
“We’ve been meeting now for three, four years almost and we haven’t done a cull,” Taylor said. “It’s really hard to justify what we call a harvest, not a cull, how can we justify that when scientific evidence is clear that when you do that without an overall plan, you end up within a short period of time with the same population back again.”
Recent reports of aggressive deer in and around the District of Invermere has drawn attention to the lack of short term solutions available to people who encounter them. In the July 18th edition of The Valley Echo, it was reported a part-time Invermere resident and her small breed dogs were being repeatedly cornered on her property by aggressive doe protecting their young fawns. Scared for her life, the woman told The Echo she was convinced their behaviour was grounds for a deer cull and that neither the district nor the conservation officer service were able to offer her any assistance.
“We are having those reports as well,” Taylor said of Grand Forks, “but there is no short term fix at this point for people, we can’t give them any short term solutions.”
That all the reports of deer aggression called in to the Invermere Conservation Office so far this year involve dogs is a fact Invermere Deer Protection Society (IDPS) president Devin Kazakoff finds unsurprising.
“Deer are naturally afraid of wolves because that’s what hunts them in the wild so they’re naturally going to be afraid or feel that the dogs are threatening them,” he said. “If they’re feeling threatened, they’re going to go after the dogs… the fawns are around and the dogs are around and they don’t mix.”
When deer aggression is at its peak — in the summer months when the doe are protecting their very young fawn usually born in June — Kazakoff says dog owners should keep their pets in enclosed areas.
“Invermere is home to hundreds of deer, they naturally exist here,” he said. “Bringing dogs into the deer’s environment and you’re having a problem with your dogs being attacked by what was naturally here in the first place, it’s not exactly the deer’s fault.”
The solutions his deer protection organization advocates include the use of deer fences around private properties, relocation, contraception, and hazing. With regards to the ongoing aggressive behaviour reported to The Echo, he said relocating those particular animals would be the best option.
“I would never advocate putting an animal down because it’s acting aggressive,” Kazakoff said. “They should also not be killed inhumanely; I don’t think she’d appreciate her dog going into a clover trap and having a bolt gun put to its head.”
“We’re not against moving the deer out of town, and we’re not against reducing the population of the deer, we’re just against the method they do it by,” he said.
His organization is currently working with the Province to allow hazing in British Columbia.
“The province doesn’t allow [it] and that’s what I would suggest if we could haze the deer away from her property or away from town,” he said. “We’ve also advocated for contraception for the deer, that’s also not allowed by the province; that would work best actually, because then they can naturally exist and they’ll eventually die off.”
According to District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft, one unwelcome side effect of hazing is that it can actually exacerbate the aggressive behaviour, something the DOI discovered from Waterton, AB, which also has problems with deer.
“They use the hazing method with dogs as one of their options to try and manage the deer,” he said. “One thing they found with their experience is the aggressive deer started out reacting and becoming aggressive when there were dogs, usually smaller dogs, but generally dogs on leashes… but as that aggressive behaviour increased and became more common, the next trigger point became baby carriages and strollers.”
There were actually cases in Waterton where deer tried attacking strollers with children in them, Taft said, and in these cases, birth control is simply not an option.
“To suggest that birth control is somehow an option when you have aggressive deer in and around your property right now and you’re scared for your safety right now, birth control that may or may not be approved and may or may not work seven to 10 years in the future really doesn’t help,” he said.
And generally the people who believe deer aggression is possible are those who have seen or experienced it firsthand, he said.
“Some of these people described themselves before as complete deer lovers, they maybe even have fed the deer, and their whole attitude changes when they experience it first hand,” Taft said, “so that’s one of the tough parts of the issue is that where the IDPO might be coming from, I think they have the best intentions, but they may not have personally experienced what some people have experienced.”
Concurrently, Kazakoff says he was raised in Invermere, has never owned a dog, and has never witnessed aggressive deer behaviour: “Personally I’ve never been threatened by a deer, ever,” he said. “When I hear these stories I feel they’re quite exaggerated.”
Another troubling scenario involving the deer, both prior to and after the cull, involves people taking matters into their own hands, just another example of why the district set up a deer management committee to begin with and part of the reason why the district proceeded with the cull earlier this year, Taft said.
“People… sort have become vigilante and potentially even poisoned deer or tried to shoot arrows at them and all kinds of other things,” he said. “Now obviously that’s something we wouldn’t want to see either.”
Other research Taft is aware of comes out of Winnipeg where, based on the number of deer from satellite photos, they have pinpointed the neighbourhoods where people are actively engaging in deer feeding. The number of deer in any given neighbourhood is often the direct result of someone in that neighbourhood feeding the deer, a big part of the issue and so preventable, he said.
“If there’s an immediate thing we can do right away, which should be really simple, is to get anyone who is leaving food out or feeding deer to stop immediately, and we’re going to put the bylaw enforcement on that and start looking for it more and actually setting fines,” said Taft. “There are no easy solutions, and we’re still working on it, and we’re still having the new deer committee do more research, but I think this is a great example of just how complex the issue is.”
Deer feeding is also prevalent in Grand Forks, said Taylor.
“That’s the most aggravating point of all, is that we still have a lot of people in town who are feeding deer,” he said, “and so that’s certainly a priority for us, is to [stop] that.”
Another factor why Grand Forks has not enacted a cull is the cost which can come to anywhere from $300 to $500 per deer, he said, as was the wall of resistance met from animal rights activists groups when it was rumoured the city would be the first out of the blocks with one.
“We dedicated $30,000 to the deer management plan and we’re looking at a number of things that we can do that would to some extent work with the problem, mitigate some of the things that are going on,” he said. “Various communities have identified the need for more science; we need to understand better about the habits and the behaviour of the deer within the confines of the city.”