Saturday, March 3, 2012

Deer from forest to the city

Deer have found that they can make a better living in the city than in the forest. Many communities in BC are experiencing a considerable increase in sub-urban deer populations. This problem is not restricted to BC, but occurs throughout North America. Even Britain, with more dense urban environments is experiencing the urban deer phenomenon.

Foresters have known that openings in a forest with lush growth of ground vegetation provides browse and improvement in habitat for many deer species. If the deer population gets too high, deer can do considerable damage to tree seedlings or prevent regeneration of forests. In Scotland, high populations of Red deer prevented regeneration of natural Scots pine forests. Control of deer populations in recent years has enabled regeneration of Scots pine. Some deer species have a scent gland on their heads. They mark their territory by rubbing their antlers on the bark of trees to leave the scent. Unfortunately, the rubbing often damages the bark and leads to disease or death of the tree. Urban fruit trees are often a target.

Cities in BC follow the North American pattern of urban sprawl.  These sub-urban areas attract residents because they have a forest and rural environment and flavor. They are a patchwork forest, fields, gardens with almost no predators or hunting.  Deer find this habitat ideal and their populations have soared near cities. High populations of deer bring intrusion of deer further into the urban core of cities. Deer exhibit less fear of people,become aggressive and collisions with vehicles increase considerably and farms in the vicinity of cities suffer unacceptable levels of crop damage or loss.

Controlling deer populations in urban environments poses a political problem. Farmers and gardeners want to see some control of deer populations. Every city has a large percentage of Bambi lovers who oppose deer control. Provincial and municipal politicians try passing the buck (and the doe) between levels of government, so any action is delayed. Editorial pages of newspapers are filled with days of letters pleading for reduction of deer populations along with letters with passionate pleas for leaving the deer alone to multiply. Others suggest using tranquilizer guns on the deer, and transporting them to some remote forest.  (The remote forest may not have sufficient habitat especially for deer used to a fancy and exotic diet of fertilized urban pickings) The occasional mountain lion has moved into the urban environment for a deer dinner, but is soon spotted by humans and quick action is taken to kill or remove the cougar. There is an element of fear involved with cougars so humans are less tolerant. (A Bambi loving mother who writes letters to the editor on species cleansing of poor urban deer has second thoughts about a mountain lion having her Johnny for lunch.)

Deer become wise to deer repellents, such as scents, motion controlled water sprinklers, or electric fence wires. Deer fencing needs to be 7 or 8 feet high and tends to be prohibitive in terms of cost or aesthetics. Collisions with vehicles cannot be relied upon as a means of deer population control. Collisions increase with rising deer populations but it is not effective in reducing deer populations. It just helps to raise automotive insurance costs and risk of injury.

 At the end of the day, the only solution to rising urban deer populations, is active population reduction measures such as trapping and use of bolt guns.

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