The Suburban Deer Population in Saint John has reached a point where there are many negative human-deer interactions.
In parts of Saint John, deer are as commonly seen in backyards as lawn mowers. In some places as many as 30+ deer can be seen in a single day. Some people welcome and even feed them; others would prefer using them for target practice. This is an increasingly common suburban issue.
We hope that this story of what we did will help others in their struggles to find a balance: between those who are frustrated and fearful of the presence of wildlife (deer and other 'nuisance' animals); and those who believe we have a 'human problem' not a deer problem, and enjoy or feel guilted into feeding them.
From ongoing research and public consultations, we came up with our action plan. Below are some of the common concerns with deer in our community; what we found when we looked into those concerns; some successful and other possible solutions to try; and where we are now.
"Deer are dangerous because they cause car accidents" – City staff worked with the Police Force to identify the number and locations of motor vehicle accidents involving deer in the City. There has been an average of 185 accidents involving deer per year for the last five years.
"Deer carry and spread ticks, which cause Lyme disease" The Millidgeville area and Rockwood Park have been dragged for ticks by the Provincial Department of Health twice during the 2017 summer. They have confirmed that there is a higher than average number of ticks that carry the Lyme disease bacteria in these areas. City of Saint John Parks staff members are regularly in contact with the department regarding Lyme disease in order to best educate the public on prevention.
The influence of deer population on the spread of Lyme disease is less clear. Ticks do not travel far without help. Many domestic and wild animals besides deer can transport ticks. Reducing deer population alone therefore may not significantly hinder the spread of Lyme disease.
"Deer destroy gardens Property Damage" – It is clear many Saint John residents experience damage to flowers, gardens, etc. on their property. The extent of this problem is not currently known. One of the only ways to better quantify this issue is to survey residents.
One thing we know for sure, there is no 'quick fix'. Communities that successfully reduce urban deer populations use a multi-faceted approach and are implemented for a long period of time.
Refraining from Feeding Wildlife – Plentiful food sources, including from citizens who feed deer, can draw the population into urban areas. A By-law Prohibiting Feeding Deer will likely be necessary.
Choosing Vegetation – Planting vegetation that is not appealing to deer can help reduce drawing deer into neighbourhoods and minimize damage. Citizens are encouraged to consult with a nursery or landscape company for options.
Fencing – Residents can protect their properties from deer by installing fencing around their yard or placing other protective barriers around flowers, gardens, etc.
Roadway Warning Signage – Deer Crossing warning signage is appropriate in areas where it is known that deer are present. Similar to all traffic control signage, it is important to limit use of these warning signs.
Public Communications – The Province provides information related to Lyme disease. City staff refer specific public concerns/inquiries related to Lyme disease to the Department of Health and/or the Saint John Regional Hospital. The City has posted two signs in Rockwood Park educating about Lyme disease and prevention.
Public awareness with respect to feeding wildlife and thus reducing unnatural human/wildlife relationships (you're killing them with kindness!). Redirecting this passion, and providing ways people can help wildlife in other ways is important. Rockwood Park hosts volunteer days for cleanup and trail building.
Good sustainable trails = people stay on them = rest of the area is for conservation
Nuisance Deer Management Program, a 'cull' – This solution allows a property owner to issue an antlerless deer hunting license on their property for hunters with bows. This would need to be strictly regulated to address public safety concerns, and would need to include bylaws against feeding deer.
BEOFRE CONSIDERING THIS OPTION, WE HELD A VOTE TO ENSURE THE MAJORITY OF THE PUBLIC IS ON BOARD.
Other solutions not implemented in our program, but suggested through public consultation, and researched are:
Contraception - This solution is expensive and can pose additional public safety concerns.
Tranquilizing/relocating deer – This solution is expensive and can pose additional public safety concerns. Research shows deer are high stress and do not do well.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
We issued a survey, the results (blue = yes, the darker the blue the bigger a majority) indicated that the majority of the public were in favour of a nuisance deer hunt.
We are working with Provincial biologists to keep a list of landowners and hunters interested in participating in a managed nuisance deer hunt.
Deer-car collisions have decreased in 'hot spot' areas, most notably due to signage and landscaping changes.
Educational campaigns such as public outreach meetings, communications on social media and radio have increased public awareness of the importance of not feeding wildlife/protecting them in other ways. Awareness of solutions to discourage deer, and the nuisance hunt, have provided the frustrated with actions they can take to protect their homes and themselves. This have given residents a feeling of control.
Deer populations have not been eradicated in the City, but cull numbers appear to be on par with population increases meaning that the population isn't getting any bigger. The spectrum of feeling toward wildlife remains, some feel that more should be done to cull the deer and some feel that up close interaction with nature creates a bond and desire for land conservation. We continue to work toward public education, and providing solutions for both camps to feel empowered to encourage wildlife to be wild.
For Further reading and reference:
Landowner application for the Nuisance Deer Management Program
Nuisance Deer Fact Sheet from the Government of New Brunswick
Rockwood Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America. What makes it so unique is that it is smack dab in the middle of the City. This allows people, including scientists, to easily access the park and use it as a hub of research. Studies on turtles, invasive bugs, raccoons, deer, water quality, and geology have all taken place here. Students come from the adjacent University of New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Community College to study and learn, and the New Brunswick Museum Scientists can often be found using the park as an outdoor classroom for interested naturalists.