I’m done with deer.
On any given day, small herds of deer eat their way through local neighborhoods. They wander onto busy streets and stop traffic, sometimes with fatal results. They damage property, threaten people and pets, pose health risks and attract dangerous animals.
We call them “urban” deer, perhaps to trick ourselves into thinking they belong in our environment. Kind of like metrosexuals.
Why do we put up with this? If any other creature roamed our city streets with such brazen disregard for human existence, the phones of pest exterminators would ring off the hook.
Aren’t deer just rats with longer legs and better PR? Not so, for some people who see deer as lovable woodland creatures, like Bambi, and out of this misguided fantasy decide to feed them.
But gardeners lose thousands of dollars worth of plants to the voraciously hungry deer, and spend thousands more on fencing and other methods to deter them. Seiffert’s Farm lost so many crops to foraging deer that they fenced off their entire farm, at great expense.
“We need to make it socially unacceptable — just like littering.”
Other communities have mounted a variety of counter-offensives to send the deer high-tailing it out of town. So what is the Comox Valley doing?
Representatives for both the Town of Comox and the Comox Valley Regional District say neither entity has a bylaw against feeding deer, and have no plan to reduce the Valley’s urban deer population.
A CVRD representative said the deer are a provincial problem, but the B.C. Conservation Service and the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Resource Operations deny it. There is a B.C. law against feeding dangerous animals, and deer don’t qualify. The province will only help reduce urban deer populations if local governments request their assistance.
Everyone knows, or should know, that it’s harmful to feed wild animals. So let’s urge Comox Valley municipalities to pass laws that prohibit feeding deer, as Parksville, Nanaimo, Oak Bay and other B.C. communities have done.
Even the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opposes feeding wildlife. They say feeding makes habituated wildlife more susceptible to predators and traffic collisions.
“We need to make it socially unacceptable — just like littering,” said the BC SPCA chief scientific officer.
There are myriad reasons why the Comox Valley should reduce its deer population.
Deer attract dangerous animals. Deer make up about 95 percent of a cougar’s diet, and are lured into the urban area by the easy prey of unwary deer. The area conservation officer confirmed frequent cougar sightings in the Valley.
School District 71 occasionally issues warnings about cougar sightings. Many parents who fear cougar attacks in rural and semi-rural areas stay with their kids until they board the school bus.
Letting the deer population go unchecked raises the risk of spreading Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. While reported cases of Lyme disease are not as prevalent here as in the Lower Mainland and other areas, a high density of deer means more ticks and a greater risk.
Some B.C. communities are going beyond no-feeding bylaws to control their deer populations. Kimberly, a town of 10 square kilometers removed 200 deer in one cull. Cranbrook reduces its deer population by 20 to 25 annually.
A group of four Kootenay towns spent $100,000 to live-trap about 80 deer and relocated them to wilderness areas. But the experts we interviewed say this is a bad idea. Domesticated deer don’t survive long in an environment with more predators and less garden produce to snack on.
I only support culling wildlife as a method of last resort. But it would cost far less to cull the local deer population and donate the venison to Comox Valley food banks.
Whether to act, and how aggressively, depends on our community’s values. Is the current urban deer population socially acceptable? I join the chorus of those who say no.
But we’d better have this important policy debate. Because after we figure out how to manage the deer, there are about 80 gazillion feral bunnies hopping into our yards right behind them.