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Deer culls loom

The mayor of Oak Bay, British Columbia, gets dead deer alerts.

Nils Jensen barely has time to sit for a coffee when his phone pings and signals another tragic deer fatality in the suburban Victoria community known as the Tweed Curtain for its primarily elderly and refined population.

"I get regular updates," Jensen said, as he gestured to his cell phone. "There it is, the deer count, 38 so far."

That number of dead deer in Oak Bay in 2013 is a huge increase, Jensen said, considering there were zero reported deer deaths in 2008. But the number has been rising steadily over the years.

Oak Bay and several other British Columbia communities, including Invermere in southeastern BC, plan to target growing urban deer populations in 2014 to prevent potentially hazardous human-deer interactions.

"Doing nothing is not an option because we can see the rising number of deer-human conflicts," Jensen said.

He said Oak Bay's deer management strategy includes public education, bylaw enforcement, including prohibitions on feeding deer, and more signs warning drivers to beware of deer on the streets but that residents can expect the launch of a deer cull sometime next year.

Gerry Taft, the mayor of Invermere, said his community is aiming to apply for a provincial government permit next year to launch its second deer cull because they attack dogs and are no longer way of people.

"The sheer number of deer is a concern for people," Taft said. "On garbage day, when we have curbside pickup, we have groups of deer walking down the street knocking over garbage cans and eating the garbage."

Jensen said he can recite numerous brutal and dangerous incidents involving deer in Oak Bay.

Police are regularly dispatched to shoot wounded deer after they've been hit by cars, and in one instance, officers were forced to put a deer out of its misery when the animal impaled itself trying to leap a fence.

"Some of them have died an excruciating death," Jensen said. "One of them had to be put down by an officer after essentially being completely cut open as it tried to vault a fence, unsuccessfully. This isn't an easy issue for anybody. It's complex. It's emotional."

Last spring, British Columbia's Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry published an urban deer management fact sheet that said urban deer have become a safety concern due to growing conflicts between people and pets, increases in deer-automobile collisions and the tendency of deer to attract predators, including cougars.

The ministry said it will issue permits to communities opting for culls to reduce deer populations.

"Wildlife experts advise that capturing deer in collapsible clover traps and euthanizing them with a bolt gun is the safest, most efficient and most humane method of deer control in urban areas," the government fact sheet said. "Clover traps, which resemble oversized hockey nets, are placed in quiet locations to reduce stress on deer."

Trained contractors must conduct the culls and the deer meat must be processed by a qualified butcher, and "communities must make full use of healthy deer carcasses resulting from these culls, for example by donating the meat to First Nations, local food banks or other charitable groups."

Taft said Invermere's first deer cull in December 2011, when 19 deer were killed, revealed the extent of the emotions at stake when a community initiates such action.

Opponents to the deer cull cut the nets that held the deer, followed the cull contractors, slashed their tires and appeared to place deer repellent near the clover net traps, he said.But Victoria resident Dave Shishkoff, who represents the U.S. animal advocacy rights organization Friends of Animals, said BC communities such as Oak Bay and Invermere should fully explore non-lethal opportunities to deer culls.

He said enforcing local no-feeding bylaws, adding more deer warning signs on streets and roads, and fencing off Oak Bay golf areas would reduce deer populations rather than culls.

"Feeding deer is what keeps them in the area," Shishkoff said. "It's a huge problem. People are baiting deer, essentially, and keeping them in the neighbourhoods."

Changing human behaviour towards urban deer is required to control the conflict problems, he said.

In Penticton a deer cull has also been contemplated by the City. Here is an excerpt from our story in Sept., just after the City had a meeting with the Premier on the issue.

Penticton will continue to watch what happens with the (Invermere) case, in the meantime working on gathering data on alternative means of deer control such as hazing or contraceptives.

"The research will be assembled, because we are looking for a solution," said Mayor Garry Litke . "And we are happy the premier was so receptive and willing to work on this. She was very empathetic to our plea to do something about this because it is a wildlife issue not a municipal issue." 

The Canadian Press

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