Town looks to minimize conflict with deer population
Okotoks: Ban on feeding wild animals possiblilty
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 10:48 am
Okotoks’ deer population is getting some attention from Town officials who are looking at ways to discourage people from feeding the animals and limit the potential for problems.
An official with Alberta Fish and Wildlife met with town council last week to discuss ways to prevent conflicts with the deer and discourage them from getting too used to life in town.
Jon Jorgenson, acting program manager for the Southern Rockies, said deer are becoming too comfortable in town, because of no predators and a good food supply, which often comes from residents themselves.
“Why go somewhere else, the going’s good,” he said.
Jorgenson said the Sheep River is a good wildlife corridor through the community and the river valley escarpment and parks within Okotoks provide deer a good habitat.
“There’s a lot of very high quality deer habitat surrounding Okotoks,” he said.
Meanwhile, the lack of predators in Okotoks makes it more attractive to deer and removes natural controls on their numbers, he added.
There is no data on the number of deer in Okotoks.
“The honest answer is we really don’t know,” said Jorgenson.
However, he said deer populations have grown in the region, partly due to restrictions on hunting.
Jorgenson said urban deer are a growing problem in a number of communities, largely due to urban expansion.
He said there are a number of consequences to increased deer populations in urban areas, including damage to parks and gardens, increased potential for collisions and public safety concerns from aggressive deer. He said deer can become aggressive during spring when fawns are born, in rutting season in the fall and around dogs.
Jorgenson said there are no easy solutions to control deer populations in the town.
He said there are a number of different management options the Town could choose, such as simply monitoring the situation and drawing up a public awareness plan to discourage feeding. Other steps could include fencing, banning feeding deer or harassing them to make them less comfortable in town. He said tactics like capturing and moving deer or culling can also be used.
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson asked Jorgenson to speak to council to discuss the potential problems resulting from the growing deer population in the community.
“It’s one thing for the Town to be saying this kind of thing, it’s another thing to have an expert in the field tell us,” he said.
Robertson said the increasing number of deer in town warrants some kind of response before it becomes a serious problem. One of the first steps the Town could take is to raise awareness and discourage people from feeding deer and other wild animals, likely through a bylaw banning feeding wildlife.
“We’re not doing them any favours at all, we’re just creating a partially domesticated animal that is then reliant on townspeople to get their food and don’t venture outside of town because they’re being fed and watered within the Town,” he said of the deer population.
A ban on feeding wildlife could well be on the horizon in Okotoks.
Tim Stobbs, Okotoks’ municipal enforcement team leader, said the Town is reviewing the parks bylaw and a provision banning feeding wild animals could be added. He said it would be written to ban feeding specific animals such as deer, but allow people to still put out bird feeders.
“It’s very simple, our concerns are obviously ungulates,” he said. “We’re dealing with deer and we’re dealing with stuff around deer.”
There is no timeframe for when the proposed changes will be brought forward.
Stobbs said there aren’t many collisions with deer in town each year, likely less than 10. He said the lower speed limits on many roads help to reduce the number of collisions with deer.
However, when a collision happen, the damage can be significant.
Okotoks resident Al Hagan knows this all too well. He was left with thousands of dollars in damage when a deer jumped onto the hood of his car last month.
He was driving along North Railway Street on the morning of April 23 when a deer ran out of Poplar Avenue and across the road.
“I didn’t even see it and it tried to jump over my vehicle, there were hoof marks on the top of the car and the hood,” said Hagan. “It just dropped onto the windshield.”
The deer had to be put down and his car suffered almost $6,000 in damage.
Hagan said there are too many deer in Okotoks and the Town should ban feeding wildlife and educate people about why they shouldn’t encourage animals coming into town.
“I think they should pass a bylaw and have some restrictions on feeding them,” he said.