Photo: The Canadian Press
Deer roam through Truro, NS on Friday, January 14, 2022. The city plans to bring in hunters armed with crossbows to kill 20 deer to deal with an unmanageable deer population. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Andrew Vaughan
A town in central Nova Scotia is tired of annoying deer looting gardens and colliding with vehicles, and has hired four crossbow hunters to kill up to 20 of the animals within the city limits.
“There’s been a lot of damage to property, and it’s not just gardens,” said Mike Dolter, Truro’s CEO. “The trees are being eaten and they are adapting to plants that are thought to be deer-resistant …. We have had aggressive deer, especially during the rut period with bucks in the yards and people have been afraid to go outside.”
But a British Columbia-based group dealing with the same problem and a prominent Nova Scotia biologist both say the upcoming municipal hunt, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, will not solve anything.
Bob Bancroft, president of Nature Nova Scotia, says Truro’s white-tailed deer will continue to be a nuisance as long as local residents continue to feed them.
“When you end up with 30 animals in a backyard and people throw carrots out the window, it’s ridiculous,” said Bancroft, who worked for 15 years as a wildlife biologist with the provincial government.
Bancroft said the impending eviction – the city prefers to call it a hunt – would only be a temporary solution because the surviving deer will soon be joined by others who will move into the city to take advantage of the easy meals that the inhabitants offer.
“It’s happening all over North America,” Bancroft said in a recent interview, referring to the fact that 300 years of industrial forestry have displaced large populations of deer from their natural habitat. “When you degrade the forest and the soil, you end up with regeneration that is very nutrient-poor for the deer. They end up moving into private areas that are ecologically healthier.”
Bancroft said the community of 12,000 would be better off by trying to adapt to the deer instead of killing them.
Dolter, Truro’s CEO since 2017, said municipal officials have been investigating the issue for years and that they have launched public education campaigns to prevent residents from handing out backyard goods. But the campaigns have not worked and the deer keep coming.
The decision to hire crossbow hunters was based, among other things, on the fact that long cannons may not be used within the city limits. Dolter says the designated hunting grounds – each lured with apples – are at least 800 meters from all schools or built-up areas and have been set up so that crossbow projectiles, known as bolts, end up in the ground or nearby hay bales if they miss their target.
“We have no illusions that we are going to take 20 deer and suddenly see a big drop in the population,” he said. “It will take a number of years to achieve.”
Dolter said the crossbow plan has angered some locals. “Some people do not agree with this and think it is cruel,” he said. “But the evidence we have is that it is not.” He added that the city rejected the idea of catching and moving the animals because they often suffer and go into shock.
In Longueuil, Que., A plan to capture and kill most of the deer living in a local park was initially shelved after a strong public backlash that included a petition, a protest and threats against the former mayor. Michel-Chartrand Park is home to about 70 deer – more than five times the number of animals it can comfortably support.
The suburb of Montreal considered other options, including moving the deer or reducing their numbers with contraception, but it concluded that the only viable option was to capture and kill all but 10 to 15 animals, and it has said it will continue with exclusion this year.
In recent years, the city of St. Andrews in southwestern New Brunswick – at one time home to 13 deer per square mile – approved an annual nuisance deer hunt, but it takes place on private land during the regular hunting season.
In Oak Bay, BC, a community of 18,000 east of Victoria, an innovative birth control program is showing promising results.
The project, led by the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society, followed a public outcry triggered by a massacre in 2015, in which 11 black-tailed deer were caught in a net-like device and killed with a bolt gun – the same device used to slaughter cattle.
“It was pretty brutal,” said Kristy Kilpatrick, president of the three-year-old voluntary organization, which includes community members, scientists and wildlife experts. “They came together and decided there had to be a better way and it had to be rooted in science.”
Using a series of about three dozen motion-activated cameras, the group determined that the area was home to about 100 deer or more. In 2019 and 2020, 120 donors were sedated with an arrow pistol and injected with an immunosuppressive agent.
“At this point in our research, it looks incredibly positive,” Kilpatrick said in a recent interview. “The data so far tell us that the birth rate has been reduced by 60 percent.” She said there have been few complaints from residents, except for a few comments about the lack of fawns in the area.
Like Bancroft, Kilpatrick said killings do not work.
“When you remove a large number of deer from a given area, what happens in a relatively short period of time is that more deer move in and the birth rate increases,” she said. “You’re actually exacerbating the problem unless you do it year after year.”
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