Two Cranbrook Bucks get ready for the season, working out their differences the old-fashioned way. Stewart Wilson photo

The evolution of Cranbrook’s deer herd

To see a deer in town 15 years ago was rare; now, a cull issue is at the forefront of public discourse

Over the past 15-20 years, I have observed the evolution of Cranbrook’s urban deer herd.

That is to say, 15-20 years ago, there was no urban deer herd. To see a deer on the streets of Cranbrook was unusual.

Then came the big fire season of 2003, when wildfires burned all around us, driving fleeing wildlife in our direction. In the years shortly after that, the creation of new golf courses in the area, other development in Area C and at the edge of Cranbrook, and wildfire mitigation work in the Interface also flushed out the deer.

It was around 2007-2008 when I first became aware that the deer seemed to have a real presence on the ground in town — particularly in my yard. I had just moved closer to downtown, near the creek, and my neighbourhood became, and still is, the place where the urban deer are most numerous.

These deer were all mule deer.

Over the past decade, these deer have taken to town like fish to water. They seem to be habituating quite well, much as raccoons or coyotes seem to prosper when living near humans.

Cranbrook’s first deer cull was in 2011, and they have been held regularly ever since. However effective these culls are or are not, have proved to be singularly divisive — you are on one side or another, it seems.

(Full disclosure: I like the deer, however much they leave their excrement and invasive weed seeds in my yard, and I am opposed to their being culled. However, I don’t lose any sleep over it. Still, they are to me a unique feature of this small town life that still find remarkable, and unique to this part of the world).

Fifteen years ago, no one would have imagined how the culling of urban deer would become such an issue, that takes up so much of our community thought process.

I have observed other attempts at alternatives to the cull. The translocation experiment of a few years back was very exciting. Months later, my yard was full of deer with huge black radio collars around their necks, chewing their cuds and relaxing. I was astounded, and filled with respect for their inner radar.

I was interested in a coursing demonstration, whereby trained dogs, keeping a respectful distance, would herd the deer out-of-town (the demonstration in this instance used ducks instead of deer, but the point was made). I always thought this method had potential, but in B.C. it is still not permitted.

Which leaves the cull as the municipality’s only recourse when they feel numbers are too high, or when the complaints reach a certain level.

There are other developments. Five years ago, to see a white tail deer in town was very unusual. Now, about half the deer I see — on the street or in my yard — are white tails. I can hazard no guess as to why this should be. But I am charmed by these small, handsome cousins of the mule deer, so jumpy and nervous compared to the mule deers’ gentle ponderousness.

In any case, the City of Cranbrook has authorized another cull, up to 7o deer. With an estimated population count of just under 100, one would think this most recent cull will go a long way to reducing the herd to manageable numbers.

Regular culls of high numbers of urban deer are, to me, a sign that such culls are not effective in the long run. I urge the Province of B.C. and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to allow for more studies and tests of alternative methods. It’s time to give coursing another look.

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