Group worries deer problem will get worse

New development and depletion of habitat forcing deer and other animals into urban areas

A Nanaimo group dedicated to deer advocacy is worried the reduction of wildlife habitat within city limits will result in an increase of vehicle-animal collisions.

Marley Daviduk, co-founder of Deer Aware, said large developments in key wildlife habitat, such as 190 lots being developed at Linley Valley and a proposed development near Stephenson Point off Hammond Bay Road, are driving animals out of their homes and into neighbourhoods where they are often unwelcome.

She said an increasing number are meeting untimely deaths on Nanaimo roads.

“A lot of people argue that it’s just deer overpopulation, but here we go again destroying Nanaimo’s few green spaces,” said Daviduk.

“At the Linley development they bulldozed a marsh and then recreated this fake marsh for the neighbourhood. There used to be a beaver there, he was huge and had been there forever, and my dad was riding his bike and saw it had been killed on the road. I don’t know if there are any more beavers in there now. It’s only going to get worse and it’s really upsetting.”

Daviduk said she understands the need for development within city limits, but there must also be a contingency plan to assist the wildlife that is displaced.

Deer Aware worked with the city toward installing signage in high collision areas such as Hammond Bay and Departure Bay roads to warn drivers of high deer traffic, but little progress has been made, said Daviduk.

Nobody at the city could be reached prior to deadline Wednesday.

Gayle Hesse, author of a report called Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis, a study of problems encountered in municipalities across the province and possible solutions, said Nanaimo is lagging behind other B.C. communities in addressing urban ungulates.

“There is a wide variety of options that other cities have tried,” said Hesse, a biologist with the non-profit Wildlife Collision Prevention Program under the British Columbia Conservation Foundation. “A good first start that I don’t think has happened in Nanaimo is a citizens’ committee that is struck from members of all sides of the spectrum, including representation from the city and from the Ministry of the Environment.”

Kimberley, Cranbrook and Grand Forks are just some of the cities that have created citizen committees to deal with urban ungulates, an action Hesse said is the key recommendation in her report.

In Ottawa, a massive education program was undertaken by the city to educate drivers about the dangers of deer-vehicle collisions. In the B.C. Interior, where mule deer are a problem and in some cases have attacked residents, at least one area approved the culling of problem ungulates for venison.

In Nanaimo, which harbours smaller black-tailed deer, ICBC reports 870 deer-vehicle collisions, in which 25 people were reported injured, from 2005 to 2010.

“It’s a very complicated issue and there is no easy answer,” said Hesse. “The citizen population of Nanaimo has to decide what is important to them. They have to decide if that amount of vehicle damage is important enough to warrant an aggressive management action against deer.”

The only step Nanaimo has taken so far to deter deer from lingering in urban areas is to ban residents from feeding them, a law that is complaint-driven and difficult to enforce.

To address new development concerns, recommendations in the Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis include: requiring appropriate fence heights; regulate the type and amount of trees, shrubs and plants that attract deer; ensure measures are taken in the development process to mitigate habitat destruction; and to compile accurate and consistent data to determine how many deer collisions there are, how many deer-human interactions there are, and how many complaints are filed.

Daviduk said the biology department at Vancouver Island University is beginning to compile deer population data. But with increasing development and reduced habitat, she fears the situation is only going to get worse.

“It’s frustrating because green spaces are being destroyed, wildlife is being flushed out into urban areas and people just say the deer population is skyrocketing, which we don’t know,” she said. “These animals are being forced to stand in your front yard because they no longer have any cover. It’s the same for other animals like beavers, raccoons and otters.”