Based on this past wildlife management experience options for managing urban deer populations are very limited, both technically and politically. It’s difficult to foresee a long-term resolution of the conflict. People want an urban deer population that is tolerable; in balance with a public consensus to have some around, but not so many that conflict is intolerable. To meet that objective over the long-term a sustainable program will be required. How do we decrease the rate of new deer entering the urban deer population while increasing the rate of excess deer being removed from the population? Musing on the urban deer conflict, here are a couple options that occur to a wildlife biologist.
Deer are inherently fearful of dogs. A dog confined to a landowner’s property, either by rigorous training or by an ‘invisible fence,’ could stand guard to keep deer away from a specific property.
Trained sheep-herding dogs, such as border collies, under control of a professional dog handler, could restore aversion of specific urban neighborhoods. However, dogs could not be allowed to roam freely. Dogs chasing wildlife on Crown lands are in violation of law and can be destroyed.
2 An ‘invisible fence’ consists of a wire buried underground that activates an escalating shock collar as the dog approaches the wire.
In comparison to management methods dismissed above, it is possible that energy conducting dart guns – ‘stun guns’ – might be a safer alternative in urban areas. There is a diversity of stun gun brands. A Taser stun gun is purportedly safe for humans. Unlike drug filled darts, Taser darts can never be lost – they remain attached by a wire to the gun. There would be little risk to public safety from a lost Taser dart.
By vehicle, or on foot, after sunset deer can be approached very closely, perhaps as close as a couple meters or so, easily within range of a trained shooter using night-vision goggles and a Taser stun gun. It is likely a stun gun with the energy level used by police, would effectively stun a deer.
Options are several once a deer has been immobilized by Taser, hobbled and blindfolded:
1. Safe and humane killing (perhaps a bolt gun); or,
2. Package for transport elsewhere (to an abattoir, vet clinic, or remote release site in the wild); or,
3. Made infertile by chemical or surgical sterilization; or,
4. Collared for future tracking then released
As others have suggested, deer transported to a certified abattoir for butchering could produce high quality venison as a commercial product (that income thus defraying costs of the program), or, gifted to food banks to feed needy people. In contrast to deer captured using drug-loaded darts, I believe venison following stun gun capture would be suitable for human consumption.
I have no knowledge of how cost-effective Taser capture of deer would be. On the web, the cost of a laser-sited Taser stun gun suitable for night-time use appears to be less than a thousand dollars.
Currently in Canada Tasers are a prohibited weapon. Each Taser sale is registered and tracked, much like a handgun.They can only be sold to law enforcement agencies. BC’s Conservation Officer Service (AKA our ‘Game Wardens’) is a law enforcement agency.
A deer capture program using stun guns after nightfall could result in relatively low public profile for curious neighborhood residents. I suspect a team of a certified shooter with one or two ranch-hands experienced with cattle could blindfold, hobble and load into a pickup truck a mule deer in about one minute.
I have no knowledge of chemical sterilization of deer, but anticipate research has been done.
Alternatively, surgical sterilization is straight forward.
Envisioning sterile deer allowed to live out their life-span released back into the urban environment might discourage newly arriving deer from filling that vacant habitat opportunity. Without them, new deer may more quickly fill that void.
Further, these released deer would be ‘rehabilitated’ by ‘aversion training.’ Tasered deer would be fully conscious and aware of being handled by people. The unpleasant experience of being captured and handled should reinstate their fear of people.
Collars with light-reflective numbers would be useful to identify sterile deer, and, for monitoring their subsequent movements around the community. By increasing night-time visibility profile, light - reflective numbers could also reduce collision accidents with cars. I favor attaching a small bell to the collar, as an audible alert when deer are in the proximity.
An example of a program commercially harvesting problem species is the mysid shrimp harvest on Okanagan Lake.
It could also be done through status aboriginals with special rights and privileges regarding hunting.
Such a hypothetical scenario of capture of urban deer by Taser might also be acceptable to people that enjoy seeing deer in urban areas, as well as people concerned about the well-being of deer, not wanting them killed.
It is even possible tourist visitors would enjoy exploring a neighborhood populated by ‘Santa’s deer’ – those sporting a Christmas bell.
Such a program could be sustainable over the long term. With the birth rate thus diminished, and excess deer being removed, urban deer may ultimately reach a population density managed to a level acceptable to people.
- Bob Lincoln