Gardeners push town of Okotoks to get tougher on urban deer

·3 min read
Susan Russell, the president of Okotoks Garden Club wants the town to allow residents to put up makeshift fences and bring in harsher punishments for people who feed and attract deer to residential neighbourhoods. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)
Susan Russell, the president of Okotoks Garden Club wants the town to allow residents to put up makeshift fences and bring in harsher punishments for people who feed and attract deer to residential neighbourhoods. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

Gardeners in the town of Okotoks south of Calgary, Alta. are asking the town to do more about problem deer that are feasting on prized plants and shrubs.

The habituated animals have become an increasingly common site in the town in recent years but not everyone enjoys having deer stroll through their yard.

For some, it means a quick end to their hard work planting and caring for plants, shrubs and flowers.

WATCH | See just how bold some deer are in the video above

"We want fencing because it's the only thing that works, not sprays, not water, nothing," said Susan Russell, president of Okotoks Gardening Club.

"They can destroy a rose bush in an afternoon, it's gone. You won't see any more blooms. That's it," said Russell.

She says neighbouring yards can also suffer from the unwanted visitors.

"I feel badly for my neighbour and friend next door because when the deer come to eat here, it brings them to trample on her garden too."

Susan Russell, the president of Okotoks Garden Club wants the town to allow residents to put up makeshift fences and bring in harsher punishments for people who feed and attract deer to residential neighbourhoods.
Susan Russell, the president of Okotoks Garden Club wants the town to allow residents to put up makeshift fences and bring in harsher punishments for people who feed and attract deer to residential neighbourhoods.(Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"If I can stop this being the local lunch hangout then maybe I can help my neighbour at the same time," she said.

Russell says she's tried sprays and anti-deer products but without much luck.

Russell says altering the heights of rear fences and being allowed to build their own temporary makeshift anti-deer fences out of fishing line and rebar would help, along with stronger bylaws for people who attract and feed deer and hang bird feeders at head height for deer.

The ability to build extended fences would involve an addition to the current land-use bylaw. Many rear fences in town are four foot chain link and not high enough to keep deer out, according to Russell.

Her own front yard has green rebar stakes planted in the ground with fishing line tied around to keep deer out and away from her rose bushes, but she could have to remove it if anyone complains without changes to the bylaw.

A DIY fence made from rebar and fishing line adds some extra protection to Susan Russell’s prized rose bushes outside her home in Okotoks.
A DIY fence made from rebar and fishing line adds some extra protection to Susan Russell’s prized rose bushes outside her home in Okotoks.(Dan McGarvey/CBC)

She says more people have been trying gardening and spending time in their yards due to COVID-19 keeping people closer to home over the last year, so it's now an issue for more people.

"We've heard about a lot of people who were doing it for the first time last year and the deer came in and ate it all," she said. "They were terribly upset because it's not a cheap thing to do and it's time and effort."

The town's mayor says deer populations have definitely grown over the past decade and the deer have the town divided.

"I think there's a correlation between people who've lived here a long time and don't like the deer as much and people who've recently moved to Okotoks who find the wildlife just fantastic," said mayor Bill Robertson.

"People planting flowers and vegetable gardens and so on, the deer looking for a food source will avail themselves of those opportunities so they certainly eat the beautiful looking flowers and decimate peoples gardens," he said.

Two years ago the town formed an urban deer task force to look at the problem in more detail and come up with some solutions.

It will include head counts, public input and recommendations.

The task force's report is coming to council in early May and will determine what action the town should take.