Another interesting morning meeting with residents at Windsor Park. I was greeting owners and their dogs and, of course, Makenna my Cairn came along too. A variety of issues came up while I talked with dog owners, not the least of which is the urban deer problem in Oak Bay.
I am familiar with the problem because of its destructive impact in rural areas on farms where thousands of dollars a year can be lost to deer grazing fields of new seedlings and plants. For farmers, it’s a serious economic issue when income losses can span a whole growing season. For urban communities, deer can cause extensive damage to vegetable and flower gardens, serious traffic hazards and other health risks.
When I attended the UBCM Conference last month in Vancouver, I participated in a workshop titled Urban Wildlife Management. It was there that I learned about the community of Cranbrook as a groundbreaker in BC through its controlled and humane deer culling program. This is how it works.
Cranbrook took a three-pronged approach:
- implemented a bylaw against feeding deer
- undertook a deer inventory
- conducted an online resident survey
Cranbrook learned that there were 3.7 deer per sq. km. in the community and that 63% of residents responding to the survey was concerned about deer and 66% wanted a substantial decrease in the deer population.
Cranbrook then created an Urban Deer Advisory Committee and developed a management plan by adopting the Helena, Montana model where a single contractor traps and culls deer using clover traps and bolt gun. The meat is then inspected, processed and donated to local Food Banks. The program is also cost-shared with the Province.
Cranbrook provided 4 recommendations to any community contemplating a similar plan:
- immediately involve provincial government ministry staff
- use a public survey to provide clarity and program mandate
- establish a diverse and transparent advisory committee
- make important decisions in an open forum
The urban deer problem is real and I recognize that citizens are requesting action from their local governments. I also recognize as our communities continue to grow and we continue to develop into shrinking natural habitats, deer will stay close to food sources.
As difficult as the choice is to cull, in my view, community health and safety needs must take precedence over unmanaged urban deer populations.