Pesky urban deer prompt Alberta town to seek ways to control population

·3 min read
A deer makes a run for it after standing on its back legs and eating a tree in a front yard in Okotoks, Alta. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)
A deer makes a run for it after standing on its back legs and eating a tree in a front yard in Okotoks, Alta. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

The Town of Okotoks in southern Alberta is taking steps to keep deer out of residents' gardens.

Whether it's eating flowers or failing to yield to pedestrians on sidewalks, the deer population has become a problem in this town of 29,000 people south of Calgary.

"We're trying to come up with options so that everybody can peacefully co-exist," said Grant Pryznyk, chair of the task force dealing with the issue, speaking Wednesday on The Homestretch.

Following the results of two surveys conducted by the town, in 2015 and 2018, asking residents what they thought about problems with deer, the town established an urban deer task force to evaluate all aspects — both positive and negative — of having the deer in the community.

Pryznyk said counts conducted in the past two years have indicate there are around 100 of the animals living in the area.

He said members of the task force have varying experiences with deer, and gathered feedback from community members.

"The opinions of people varied a lot, from 'do something with them because they are crushing thousands of dollars I've invested in my house over the years,' to 'leave them alone, they're doing just fine,'" he said.

Pryznyk said part of the town's issue comes from the deer having become habituated to people.

"They'll approach people, and it's not good to have that because you don't know how they'll react, like any wildlife," he said.

The task force's final recommendations haven't been released yet, but one of them has been implemented as part of a pilot project this year.

"That is the fencing one, which allows people to raise their backyard fences up to about 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) which will keep the deer out," he said. "Most of the fences are four-foot chain link fences, and when a mule deer walks up to that, he can jump over it from a standing start."

Okotoks Garden Club president Susan Russell says the group lobbied for measures like fencing to protect their plants.

"This way we get to preserve our gardens, the deer are deprived of food, the deer aren't hurt, doesn't cost the council a penny. Who loses in this? It works for all of us," she said.

In his own experience, Pryznyk said his garden has remained relatively unscathed, but he has had a few awkward encounters while walking in town.

"I've had to stand up a little taller and wave my arms before deer have actually left the sidewalk," he said.

When it comes to a final solution, Pryznyk said he's advocating for the one that is easy to implement, sees results quickly, is cost effective and safe.

"If can do all of those without having to do anything more drastic, like population reduction, that's great," he said.

He said other recommendations coming from the task force include the continuation and expansion of a public education and signage program, changing of a bylaw that would prohibit deliberate feeding of deer in town, sterilizing the does and potential population relocation.

The task force's final report will go to the town council in May.