MOE provides ways to manage problem deer in an urban setting

By Contributor
February 18th, 2010


The Okanagan Region is a roughly triangular shape extending from the USA border between Manning Park and Christina Lake north to Mara Lake. The dry and mild climate is attractive to people to live and work and supports significant agriculture ventures. There is also a wide diversity of wildlife including two species of deer (mule and white-tailed).

The normal pattern for mule deer is to spend the spring, summer and fall dispersed throughout the mountains, while white-tailed deer may remain closer to the valley bottoms. However, when the deep snow of winter arrives, deer move to lower elevations to find, food, shelter and safety. Typical deer winter range is low elevation, south facing slopes and those are often the same slopes where humans choose to live.

Deer have followed this pattern for thousands of years. What has changed recently, though, is that the winter range is no longer covered with fir trees, saskatoon bushes and native grasses. The deer now encounter highways and houses and back yards with fruit trees, rose bushes and other ornamental and agricultural plants. When spring arrives, the natural behaviour is for the deer to return to the high country.

However, some deer have become accustomed to the feed associated with humans and are now year round residents in urban and semi-rural areas. Small numbers of deer are normally tolerated by people, but as the local deer numbers increase, so do crop damage and concerns and requests for action.

Deer remain in residential settings because they feel protected from predators and there is an abundance of food. At some point, the level of deer damage to domestic plants becomes unacceptable to home owners. There are limited steps that the Ministry of Environment can take, but the long term solution must include residents making their community less attractive to deer.


Human Health Issues

Deer carry ticks and other parasites, but according to Dr. Helen Schwantje, the Provincial Wildlife Veterinarian, deer are not currently considered a significant source of infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans or domestic animals.

Human Safety Issues

Deer are not considered dangerous wildlife, but they must be given respect and space. Deer normally react defensively and most often flee from perceived threats. However they are intelligent animals and can learn that humans or even smaller dogs are not threats. Deer are wild animals and does can be aggressively protective of their fawns. Pepper spray will work to discourage an aggressive deer. Any human physical contact from an aggressive deer should be reported to the Conservation Officer Service (1-877-952-7277) for appropriate action.

Attracting Predators

Although cougars do attack humans, such events are rare because cougars are wary and normally avoid human activity. Cougars prey on deer and thus may be attracted into towns where there are deer. It is equally likely, though that domestic stock and pets are the attractive prey, thus cougars could be encountered in a town regardless of the presence of deer. A cougar in a town should be reported to the Conservation Officer Service call centre (1-877-952-7277).


The Problem Wildlife Management Policy (4-7-04.01) states that Ministry of Environment will:

  • control wildlife which threatens or causes significant damage or harm to man or his property; but
  • wildlife will generally not be controlled before acceptable husbandry, food or waste storage practices, or agricultural operations, are instituted to prevent problems from occurring.

So, it is incumbent upon the landowner to make reasonable efforts to protect his property from deer damage prior to action by Ministry staff.


For fencing details and designs, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/deer.htm or http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/info/wildlife_human_interaction/docs/ungulates.html

1. Woven wire fencing is the most effective protection from browsing deer. To be effective, though, the fence must be a minimum 2.5m high;

2. Electric fencing can be a barrier to deer, but must be maintained. To be effective, 8 strands of electrified wire should be spaced over 1.5m height. Another suggestion is to have a single strand of electric fencing, but coated with a deer attractant (peanut butter has been suggested) to ensure that a deer would get a shock and be repelled from the area;

3. Cages or mini fences can be installed around specific shrubs that the landowner wants protected;

4. Netting that is normally sold to protect berries and fruit from birds can be an effective temporary barrier to browsing deer.


Chemical mixtures sprayed onto plants give a taste or odour that is disagreeable to deer. A recipe for a homemade deer repellent can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/deer.htm.

Commercial repellents such as Plantskydd are available at major garden supply centres (Art Knapp, Rona, Canadian Tire) which claim to provide protection for months. CanRepel (www.canrepel.com) sells a monthly deer repellent service to homeowners in the Okanagan. Deer can become accustomed to a specific repellent, so it may be necessary to vary the product used occasionally to maintain effectiveness.

There are motion sensor devices attached to a water sprinkler (one brand is called “Scarecrow”) which the company claims is effective at scaring deer from a yard.


Trapping and moving deer

The Ministry of Environment manages wildlife resources at the population level, not normally at the individual animal or local level unless there is a threat to human health or safety or crops. There are many technical difficulties with trapping deer including stress to the animals, as well as the potential for spreading disease and parasites to the release site.

The critical issue, however, is that as long as there is a source of high quality food located on their winter range, wild deer will continue to be attracted to town and the Ministry would be into a perennial trapping program. Deer/human interactions in suburban areas have become so widespread in the Province that the Ministry resources would be overwhelmed by such requests. In addition, there are well-meaning people in most communities purposely feeding deer, which would largely nullify translocation efforts.

Hunting deer

It is the mandate of the Ministry of Environment to provide hunting recreation and a sustainable harvest of game. This is achieved primarily by manipulating the hunting seasons. While the hunting regulations apply to all game animals, deer management options in the Okanagan Region can be hampered by private land, ‘No Hunting’ restrictions and local Government firearm bylaws. Hunters typically avoid hunting near residences, so even increasing the hunting season in the forest would not likely provide relief from nuisance deer in town.

It is possible to have a limited entry hunt for deer, directed at specific private properties and adjacent Crown land (usually within 400 metres). In this way, the number of hunters can be controlled and the hunting effort directed at problem areas. The Ministry can administer the hunt, but the local government council must:

  • identify the areas or properties where this hunt could be carried out;
  • waive or modify firearm or hunting restrictions to allow a hunt;
  • ensure that there is general community support for such a hunt.

Educating homeowners

It is important that homeowners understand the consequences of attracting deer into town. Feeding can increase the dependence of deer on people, lead to aggressive behaviour and facilitate disease transmission. In response to these concerns, several communities in Canada and the United States (including Princeton and Kimberly) have instituted deer-feeding bylaws. To be effective, the community must support deer control efforts by individual landowners and the provincial government.

 In summary

This is not an easy situation to resolve. Deer are long term residents of both remote and semi rural areas and, like the deer, humans will have to adapt to co-exist with wildlife using the same piece of land. From the human’s perspective, successful co-existence could involve:

  • selecting landscaping plants that are unpalatable to deer;
  • educating adults and children on how to react to wildlife;
  • building suitable fences for worry-free play areas and enclosing gardens;
  • making deer unwelcome near your residence;
  • acquiring an assertive dog (but keeping it under control);
  • using scare devices or repellents;
  • never feeding deer and educating neighbours who do;
  • passing a bylaw prohibiting the feeding of deer in town;
  • making hunters feel welcome to legally hunt deer close to town.

Brian Harris

Ministry of Environment, Penticton, B.C. 

Categories: Letters