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Eco-Logical: Oh deer: The causes and solutions to urban ungulate management

A column written by Selkirk College Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students
Dallas Thompson and Adam Minshull are second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College. Photo: Submitted

by Dallas Thompson and Adam Minshull

Do you have an elderly family member? Do they like to enjoy a casual walk down the street? Are you worried an urban deer may attack them as they feed the ducks at the local lake? For many residents of the Kootenay region, this is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. As the never-ending march of time continues, the urban ungulate population rises to new heights and new infamy.

As urban and road development in the Kootenay region expands, human influence is encroaching into important wildlife areas. Many towns are built in low-lying areas in mountain valleys which have served as wildlife corridors for thousands of years. While humans are able to adapt quickly to changes, ungulates do not. Herds have used these same passageways and food sources for centuries before industry and urbanization. As a result, many ungulates have changed their behavior to seek out food that we carelessly leave out for them and are becoming increasingly habituated to urban areas.

An example of this was seen locally when a Nelson man and his dog were out for a walk and were ambushed by a deer. The man’s dog was severely injured but was thankfully able to make a full recovery. Stories like this are prime examples of how ungulates in urban areas are no longer seeing us as a threat and as a result, are becoming more comfortable around us, leading to repeated incidents.

Another issue is the increasing popularity of winter activities attracting more people into the Kootenay region and as a result, the winter ranges of ungulates. Wintertime is the hardest time of the year for the ungulate population; resources are low, weather is harsh, females are pregnant, and predators have the movement advantage. With the addition of a 2-stroke engine in this vital habitat, populations of ungulates are adversely affected. The constant sound and disturbance stress herds and force them down into lower elevation areas. This becomes a contributing factor to increasing ungulate population in urban areas. This factor combined with the relative abundance of available winter food in urban centers, makes it highly likely that ungulate populations will choose to stay in these areas.

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This problem can be quite easily managed by implementing moving snowmobile closures to reduce traffic and set up permanently closed winter ranges in highly used areas.

To combat these issues facing communities, new and improved solutions must be sought out. A research paper out of the United States offers a different and more adaptive management style that could be implemented in the Kootenay region. The paper proposes a community action based plan in which towns do their own research on the situation and determine whether to cull the population, euthanize, or hire a professional to manage the herds.

This proposal is often more effective as it leads to affirmative action by the community and provides residents with a sense of involvement. Furthermore, it provides far more flexible solutions than a blanket management act which does not account for more unique cases requiring complex solutions.

In conclusion, with the urbanization of wildlife corridors, natural food sources, and recreation in sensitive ungulate habitat changing to a community-based ungulate management may be the solution. Providing communities with a constructive and involved way of dealing with the issue that faces them can create a sense of resolve towards the issues facing them.

Dallas Thompson and Adam Minshull are second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk. College.