Recent urban deer management activities in B.C. have arisen out of concerns over human-deer conflicts (e.g., eating gardens, interactions with pets, vehicle collisions) in many communities. Although urban deer populations are rarely studied, the perceived or actual overabundance of deer has strained some people's tolerance for deer living in or near towns.
The issue has become controversial because there are many unknowns about urban deer management in B.C.: Is there an overabundance of deer? Is deer habitat shrinking due to development? Are human-deer interactions increasing because of human activities? Can we accurately count urban deer? And what is appropriate and humane management of urban deer?
BC SPCA Stance on Urban Deer Management
In response, the BC SPCA created the first Urban Deer Position Statement in 2011 to reflect our concerns with the management of urban deer, especially as many municipalities have been tasked with local wildlife management, a responsibility previously only held by provincial government. The BC SPCA is opposed to the culling of deer when it cannot be performed humanely, and/or when there is no scientific justification for the cull.
The BC SPCA supports the use of non-lethal measures to address human-deer conflicts, including non-contact hazing, anti-feeding bylaws and enforcement, road signage and speed enforcement, landscaping changes, and humane deterrents such as motion-activated sprinklers. Professional and highly regulated use of contraception and translocation are also experimental options that require more research in the province. In 2014, the Urban Deer Position Statement (PDF) was revised to reflect endorsement of these options.
Download the BC SPCA Urban Deer Pamphlet (PDF) and share widely.
Why oppose indiscriminate culling?
Culling is a short-term and unsustainable solution. In particular, indiscriminate culls conducted to date in B.C. communities may not target the right deer species, gender or age class, or individuals that are of most concern to residents, costing tax payers hundreds, even thousands, of dollars per deer killed. Further, in towns where deer populations move between municipal borders, a cull may only cause more deer habitat to be available to other animals.
The BC SPCA has consistently opposed urban deer culls in communities where there is no measured overpopulation, no representative consultation with residents, and no legitimate attempt at reducing conflict through non-lethal means (feeding bylaws, speed reduction, fencing, etc.). Here is a summary of urban deer cull activities in B.C. to date:
With no measured deer overpopulation and no survey of community residents, the cull of black-tailed deer in this small Victoria-area municipality was strongly opposed by the BC SPCA in a June 2013 letter to Oak Bay Mayor and Council (PDF). Further, the wording in the December 2014 Request for Proposal from Oak Bay to hire a contractor raised significant concern from BC SPCA Cruelty Investigations Department. After considerable opposition from resident groups, 11 deer were killed on private properties in February-March 2015, without learning about the local deer population or its movements.
After publicly acknowledging there was not a deer overpopulation in the city, but a specific group of rogue mule deer acting aggressively, Cranbrook became the first municipality to receive a provincial permit to cull urban deer in 2011. Despite killing 11 white-tailed deer in this indiscriminate cull of 25 deer, the city was issued a second permit in 2013 to cull another 25 animals, only mule deer, but no gender or specific individuals were targetted. The BC SPCA wrote to the new city council to denounce the culling programs when the third cull began in 2015, and only a few animals were killed with the mild winter conditions.
Despite an overpopulation in the area, the cull of 99 deer in Kimberley in 2012 remained controversial amongst residents. During this cull, a BC SPCA Constable attended one day of cull activities after animal cruelty complaints were made regarding deer being injured in clover traps. Although the Constable was able to confirm the cull that day was conducted in a professional and appropriate manner, this was not an endorsement of the cull, but just verification that was performed legally. The BC SPCA supported a trial hazing project in the city using highly trained dogs in 2013 and will consult on a local pilot relocation program in 2015.
After the most controversial cull in the province, which resulted in a Supreme Court injunction and subsequent court case in 2012, the District of Invermere has now obtained a permit from October 2014 to March 2017 to kill up to 60 deer annually. With reporting requirements about the cull not due until after permit expiry, the purpose and the intended results of the cull remain unknown.
After the removal of 39 mule deer from the District in 2014, the municipality is now struggling to address an unforeseen ungulate issue - elk have now moved into the habitat previously occupied by the mule deer. Complaints during the cull included the day-time killing activities that were witnessed by local residents. The cull was suspended for a week in January 2014 due to the violation of permit conditions.
What if a cull is scheduled?
If a cull is undertaken by a community, the BC SPCA as an enforcement agency cannot stop the cull unless the methods are determined to be inhumane under the law. Witnesses who view animal distress during a cull can call the BC SPCA Provincial Call Centre 1-855-622-7722 (open 7 days a week, 9am to 5:30pm) or the RCMP afterhours, and are encouraged to document evidence by video or photograph (however, do not trespass on private property).
Many people oppose the concept of a cull outright on philosophical grounds, but the societal definition of what is "humane" often differs from what can be enforced by law. The provincial government is the authority which is responsible for approving and monitoring any cull activity.
As with any individual wild animal that is highly habituated and a risk to public safety, the targeted and humane removal of that animal may be required. Also the BC SPCA recognizes that deer are hunted in non-urban areas throughout the province. The BC SPCA Hunting Position Statement (PDF) acknowledges when hunting is practiced for subsistence purposes, it must be done in a humane, responsible and sustainable manner by qualified and experienced hunters, abiding by applicable laws and regulations.
However, the current culling of urban deer in B.C. for the purpose of conflict management does not equate to hunting or the removal of individual problem animals. Thus, much more consideration of this issue is needed to find a balanced and evidence-based approach that is in the best interests of local residents and the deer.
What is the solution?
Research in Winnipeg has shown that by studying deer movement and by enforcing feeding bylaws and speeding laws, a city can reduce human-deer conflicts. Researcher Erin McCance presented some of these results at the 2014 Living with Wildlife Conference. Previously in 2012, after meeting with McCance, the BC SPCA recommended such research be the basis for urban deer management in B.C. Now that years of culling have not solved conflicts in the above municipalities, it is hoped that a new strategy for management can be developed by the Province based on sound scientific evidence.
Photo credits: Carol Munro, Kathy Lamb, April Roberts, Lisa Doetez