Waterton casts doubt on hazing

A recent meeting may shed some light on how alternative deer management programs could work in Invermere in the future.

A recent meeting between Invermere Deer Committee member Brad Malfair and Waterton Lakes National Park ecosystem scientist Barb Johnston to discuss Waterton’s ongoing issue with town deer may shed some light on how alternative deer management programs could work in Invermere in the future.

“I’m not the kind of guy, if I have the chance to find out the truth from the source, I go for it,” Malfair said.

In a report that was delivered to District of Invermere council on September 11, Malfair noted that according to data from 2005, there were an estimated 80 to 90 deer in the approximately 1.5 kilometre by 2 km township of Waterton, AB. In 2005, multiple dogs had been injured from contact with deer, some to the extent of being put down. There were also unrecorded cases of people seeking help from the local hospital, again from contact with deer. As the years went by, attacks and deer aggression were reported to have increased. In one case, a blind man with a seeing eye dog was attacked, and in another a woman was forced into a lake by an aggressive deer.

According to the report, Waterton began a management program in 2009, where it was originally speculated that only a handful of deer were aggressive. Offending deer would be shot with an oil-based paintball gun, however after a short time there were a significant number of deer around town with multiple paintball shots. Initially, once a deer received three paintball shots, it was captured and relocated, which happened with seven different deer. The deer were moved out of town, across a river and up to 10 km away. Three came back and were shot and killed, and as a result, Waterton now immediately kills any deer with three paintball markings. It was also noted that aggressive behaviour was not always related to does with fawns. Dry does (without fawns) and young bucks had also shown signs of aggression by advancing on people, and Johnston stated that there was simply no biological reason for the deer to behave that way, and that it had become a normal response, learned from their habituated mothers.

A tender was then put out for a contract to haze the deer using dogs, which was taken by a woman with border collies that she used on her own livestock. The first year, 2011, she was contracted for one month, seven days a week at a cost of approximately $300 a day in June, to coincide with fawning season. She would patrol the town in a golf cart looking for deer, then shepherd them out of the town boundaries. Malfair noted in his report that many times the deer would return by the end of the day, and does with new fawns would often refuse to be driven off.

This year, she has been contracted for six weeks, which will cost roughly $13,000 plus the golf cart and Parks time to manage the program. When asked if the hazing program would work in Invermere, the contractor stated that she did not think it would, as there are too many obstacles and too much distance to cover, and Johnston agreed. Both were surprised to hear that the Invermere Deer Protection Society (IDPS) had touted the Waterton hazing program as successful when they haven’t come to any conclusions of their own as of yet. Malfair also stated in his presentation to council that no one from the IDPS has ever contacted them about the program.