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Deer culls loom in B.C. communities

VICTORIA - The mayor of Oak Bay, British Columbia, gets dead deer alerts.

Nils Jensen barely has time to sit for a coffee when his phone pings and signals another tragic deer fatality in the suburban Victoria community known as the Tweed Curtain for its primarily elderly and refined population.

"I get regular updates," Jensen said, as he gestured to his cell phone. "There it is, the deer count, 38 so far."

That number of dead deer in Oak Bay in 2013 is a huge increase, Jensen said, considering there were zero reported deer deaths in 2008. But the number has been rising steadily over the years.

Oak Bay and several other British Columbia communities, including Invermere in southeastern B.C., plan to target growing urban deer populations in 2014 to prevent potentially hazardous human-deer interactions.

"Doing nothing is not an option because we can see the rising number of deer-human conflicts," Jensen said.

He said Oak Bay's deer management strategy includes public education, bylaw enforcement, including prohibitions on feeding deer, and more signs warning drivers to beware of deer on the streets but that residents can expect the launch of a deer cull sometime next year.

Gerry Taft, the mayor of Invermere, said his community is aiming to apply for a provincial government permit next year to launch its second deer cull because they attack dogs and are no longer wary of people.

"The sheer number of deer is a concern for people," Taft said. "On garbage day, when we have curbside pickup, we have groups of deer walking down the street knocking over garbage cans and eating the garbage."

Jensen said he can recite numerous brutal and dangerous incidents involving deer in Oak Bay.

Police are regularly dispatched to shoot wounded deer after they've been hit by cars, and in one instance, officers were forced to put a deer out of its misery when the animal impaled itself trying to leap a fence.

"Some of them have died an excruciating death," Jensen said. "One of them had to be put down by an officer after essentially being completely cut open as it tried to vault a fence, unsuccessfully. This isn't an easy issue for anybody. It's complex. It's emotional."

Jensen said a grandfather reported a deer leaping over his grandson's head as the two sat in their backyard. The female deer was apparently fleeing the unwanted advances of a young buck.

There are videos of bucks locking horns downtown during mating season and reports of frolicking, love-struck deer running head-on into cars.

"They don't know about traffic safety," Jensen said. "They run into the street and strike the car or cyclist."

Jensen said his recently scheduled deer-cull meeting with representatives of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals was delayed for several hours because a driver hit a deer in Oak Bay.

"That sucked. It was awful," said Lesley Fox, of the animal rights organization. "She was probably about eight months, not quite a year old."

Fox, who stopped to tend to the fatally wounded animal, said the fawn suffered at the side of the road for 90 minutes until Oak Bay police officers arrived to relieve its suffering.

Last spring, British Columbia's Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Ministry published an urban deer management fact sheet that said urban deer have become a safety concern due to growing conflicts between people and pets, increases in deer-automobile collisions and the tendency of deer to attract predators, including cougars.

The ministry said it will issue permits to communities opting for culls to reduce deer populations.

"Wildlife experts advise that capturing deer in collapsible clover traps and euthanizing them with a bolt gun is the safest, most efficient and most humane method of deer control in urban areas," the government fact sheet said. "Clover traps, which resemble oversized hockey nets, are placed in quiet locations to reduce stress on deer."

Trained contractors must conduct the culls and the deer meat must be processed by a qualified butcher, and "communities must make full use of healthy deer carcasses resulting from these culls, for example by donating the meat to First Nations, local food banks or other charitable groups."

Taft said Invermere's first deer cull in December 2011, when 19 deer were killed, revealed the extent of the emotions at stake when a community initiates such action.

Opponents to the deer cull cut the nets that held the deer, followed the cull contractors, slashed their tires and appeared to place deer repellent near the clover net traps, he said.

"There were definitely times where the contractor came to a net which had been triggered and there were no deer inside because the net had been cut."

But Invermere, like Oak Bay, is proceeding with the intention to conduct a deer cull next year, Taft said.

The Invermere Deer Protection Society tried unsuccessfully to sue the community for moving to a cull without properly consulting residents or considering deer mitigation options. The society has said it will appeal the ruling even though an official community opinion poll suggested that most residents favoured a deer cull.

"We're trying not to be held hostage by this small group of people who are playing these legal games," Taft said.

He said deer culls are expensive, but communities that feel they're part of an ungulate invasion want their numbers controlled. Taft said his community wants financial support from the province, but so far all that appears to be coming from the B.C. government are guidelines and permits.

"The cute thing that some of the deer lovers like is we have some raised crosswalks in different parts of town and the deer seem to love crossing the road on the raised crosswalks," he said.

But Victoria resident Dave Shishkoff, who represents the U.S. animal advocacy rights organization Friends of Animals, said B.C. communities such as Oak Bay and Invermere should fully explore non-lethal opportunities to deer culls.

He said enforcing local no-feeding bylaws, adding more deer warning signs on streets and roads, and fencing off Oak Bay golf areas would reduce deer populations rather than culls.

"Feeding deer is what keeps them in the area," Shishkoff said. "It's a huge problem. People are baiting deer, essentially, and keeping them in the neighbourhoods."

Changing human behaviour towards urban deer is required to control the conflict problems, he said.

"We need to be concerned for the deer and their safety, as well as our own. It's a lot harder to manage wildlife than it is to manage people, so if we manage ourselves it becomes much less of an issue."

Shishkoff said he's preparing a brochure that outlines how to use non-lethal methods to control urban deer and will distribute it throughout the community.

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