“The deer have become completely urbanized.”
– RICK PAULS, MAYOR, KILLARNEY-TURTLE MOUNTAIN
Lloyd Church’s 42-acre managed woodlot near Anola is a sorry sight these days, and not from disease, insects or age.
It’s the countless white-tailed deer making his stand of trees an all-you-can-eat buffet.
In a half-decade, as he’s observed increasing numbers of deer in the area, he’s lost an estimated 20,000 seedling species planted to boost diversity in the woodlot. Virtually everything he put in was destroyed. Those trees that aren’t dead are stunted because deer nibble off new growth.
“They are all browsed,” says Church. “The only two that they don’t bother browsing is the white spruce and the lilac. But this doesn’t stop the bucks from rubbing them.” That also causes trees to die over time.
Church lays the blame squarely on those who feed deer in his area. In an article written in the Manitoba Woodlot Association’s newsletter, Church calls it the biggest factor in deer becoming a nuisance to property owners.
It’s such a popular past time in these parts, you see “Deer feed for sale” signs posted, said Church.
“I blame it a lot on feeding of the deer,” he says. “It’s what brings them in.”
Higher deer populations concentrated around certain urban areas isn’t unusual, but it’s been making headlines this month as towns like Killarney reveal they’re overrun with deer.
The Killarney Guide reports over 80 per cent of residents say they’ve had damage to their property from deer. Nearly one in four say they’ve given up gardening because of deer.
That’s because you need a high fence now to keep them off your property, said Killarney-Turtle Mountain Mayor Rick Pauls. His council turns a blind eye to electric fences people have even resorted to, he added.
Yet, even as Killarney fills up with deer, the surrounding countryside seems to have few deer. Hunters staying in Killarney during last year’s deer hunt remarked to Pauls that they’d have had better luck hunting inside the town limits.
“The deer have become completely urbanized,” Pauls said.
Killarney will work with Manitoba Conservation to determine the size of the urban deer population, and decide on what measures to take to reduce the population, he added.
It’s a problem Pinawa finally concluded was being exacerbated by residents’ own habit of intentionally feeding deer. Over time that’s added to the attractions a townsite has to a hungry deer, Pinawa CAO Gary Hanna said.
Other lures are things such as ornamental trees planted on town boulevards which bear berries no one harvests because they contain too many seeds – except for deer, which find them irresistible.
Problem deer in town finally pushed Pinawa to enact a bylaw that prohibits deer feeding, with a fine of $500, Hanna said.
They believe the bylaw has at least helped curb the deer-feeding practice, but many in Pinawa also feel problem deer are something they just have to learn to live with.
Towns are places of shelter and food and have no predators so they tend to draw in deer, especially when it’s a tough winter and food becomes scarce elsewhere, said Hanna. “We create an artificial environment for them.”
Dr. Vince Crichton, Manitoba Conservation’s manager of game, fur and problem wildlife, said there’s no simple solution to the problem of urbanized deer, but it would definitely help if people stopped deliberately feeding deer.
Contrary to what some might think, the problem is not a growing provincial deer herd.
“If anything, it’s probably gone down in some areas and remained steady in other areas,” Crichton said.
Rather, this is a localized problem. “The reason that people are having problems in these areas is that over time, over many years, people have been feeding deer,” he said.
Control or removal measures by Manitoba Conservation are costly and complicated, he continued. “I also think that the community can do some things. We’re saying no more feeding of deer.”
No provincial laws prohibit deer feeding, although resource officers do have authority under the provincial Wildlife Act to order the practice stopped if it is creating a risk of property damage or to health and safety of people or other wildlife.
Church thinks local bylaws would go a long way toward solving the problem. But he doubts municipal councils will go there, lest it prove unpopular with ratepayers.
“It’s a very touchy subject,” Church said. “The province has to do something rather than the municipality.”