Bear and cougar sightings in or near communities tend to get a lot of attention, as people are concerned about run-ins with either, but deer can pose a real threat to people and their pets; particularly does protecting their offspring during fawning season, which runs from May through to early July.
“We’re in the thick of fawning season,” says Vanessa Isnardy, provincial coordinator for WildSafeBC. “Does will see dogs as a potential threat to fawns, and there have been instances where pet owners and their dogs have been attacked by does attempting to protect their fawns. Those sharp hooves can do a lot of damage. I’ve heard of small dogs being killed by does.”
She says that anyone out walking their dog who sees a doe or fawn should give them lots of space. “You can put ‘Deer in Area’ signs up if the deer are lingering in a certain area. Sometimes people aren’t aware of where deer are hanging out, and might stumble across them. It’s best to keep pets on a leash and keep them well away from does and fawns.”
Isnardy says that while people often find a fawn that they think is abandoned, it probably isn’t.
“Often when a fawn is born, the doe will leave it for hours at a time while she goes feeding, and will return to nurse. When fawns are born they don’t have a scent, which keeps them safe from predators, and they also know to keep still and silent. The fawn might appear orphaned, but the best thing to do is leave it alone.” She adds that removing the fawn from the area greatly decreases its chance of survival.
Capturing and moving wildlife without a permit is illegal under the Wildlife Act. Isnardy says that if the fawn looks ill or dehydrated, or is making noise, it might need help.
“Leave it alone and call the Conservation Officers Service at 1-877-952-7277. They’ll triage that and respond. It’s helpful if you can describe what you’re seeing. If they get a report of a fawn that’s by itself they might not respond, but they might if you’re able to give symptoms.”
Urban deer are an issue in many communities, with some residents not minding them in their backyards and even feeding them; something Isnardy warns against.
“As a community, try to respect your neighbours. Feeding deer isn’t good for them, and if you’re drawing deer into your community it can lead to conflicts with pets, or the possibility that the deer will be hit by traffic. And deer can bring in predators like cougars that feed on deer, so it has a ripple effect you may not realize, and can lead to tragic circumstances for deer.”
She adds that many of the foods people try to feed them, such as apples, aren’t natural to deer. “Deer have adapted to certain food sources. They’re browsers and grazers. In winter they’re used to eating low nutrient things like branches, so if they get a rich nutrient source they’re not accustomed to it can harm them.”
When it comes to keeping deer out of your yard, Isnardy doesn’t recommend barbed wire fences. “They’re used to keep cattle from leaning on a fence, but they’re not good for keeping wildlife out. Deer can jump really high. If a fence is solid, deer aren’t as likely to jump over it as they can’t see what’s on the other side. And don’t place wrought iron spikes on top, as they can injure or skewer animals, which die an agonizing death.”
Deer fences of eight to 10 feet in height are used at nurseries, and Isnardy says motion-activated sprinklers are also effective at keeping deer out. To reduce temptation, trees and shrubs can be covered with burlap during the winter. To prevent males from rubbing or scraping around the base of trees, Isnardy suggests wrapping them with chicken wire or some other kind of mesh.
When it comes to protecting your garden plants, there aren’t many options. “You can look at trying to grow deer-resistant plants, but if deer are hungry enough they will eat almost anything. For some reason they love cedars.” And this protection is an ongoing endeavour.
“You might teach one deer and then get another one. Most deer live eight to 10 years, and there are always new ones being born, new ones to teach.”