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Urban deer in New Glasgow present dilemma

Residents upset over munched gardens, concerned about safety

Published on June 23, 2017

Roy Beck has built an approximately nine-foot-high fence to keep the deer from eating his garden in New Glasgow.

©Sueann Musick

The raiders are most often spotted in the early morning.

Some days, though, they are so brazen they rest in broad daylight on lawns on the west side of New Glasgow, stomachs full from their spoils.

Roy Beck and his wife Margie have spent decades perfecting their garden on Essex Street and weren’t about to let the work they’ve poured so much of their life into be simply devoured by the hordes of white-tailed deer that have attempted to claim their yard as their own. They say many as 17 can be seen crossing through their neighbourhood at times.

A family of deer is seen roaming the west side of New Glasgow.

While deer have been common for many years, during the last three they’ve become particularly bad, said Roy. 

Large patches of day lilies were devoured before they had the chance to bloom last year. Rhododendrons have been almost wiped out in the neighbourhood, and they even chowed down on his rose bushes.

"I was really mad that year," Beck admits.

A five-foot fence around his back yard did nothing to stop them. The deer simply leaped over it.

Enough was enough. This year Roy put rebar on top of the existing fence and tied strings along it to create an approximately nine-foot barrier to keep the deer out. For now it's worked.

He and his wife are in the process of completely redoing their front yard, which isn’t fenced. Rather than risking putting in plants the deer like, they've made a point of filling it with ones they dislike.

Aside from the plants, they’re worried about what appears to be an overabundance of deer. Roy believes they pose some serious safety risks as well. One of his relatives hit a deer in town recently, causing significant damage to their vehicle.

Const. Ken MacDonald of the New Glasgow Regional Police doesn't have exact numbers, but said several collisions involving deer and cars have been reported in the last couple of years in the towns of New Glasgow and Trenton. The police have been called several times over property damage by deer as well.

Beck worries, too, about children playing in the neighbourhood and what would happen if a deer jumped over a fence and landed on one or if a herd was spooked and trampled them.

"It's a dangerous issue for sure," he said. "The deer may not even see them and run over them."

As it turns out, the Becks aren’t alone in their struggle. Across many parts of northern Nova Scotia, deer have begun to populate urban areas. In Truro, the problem has become so bad the town is now looking at options ranging from contraception to bow hunting to control the population.

While many people point to urban sprawl and deforestation as the culprit causing wildlife to move into town, it's hard to say whether that’s the case for either Pictou County or Colchester, which have had limited new construction in recent years and have large forested areas nearby.

Department of Natural Resources regional biologist Kim George said plenty of reasons exist for deer entering towns.

"Developed areas provide a pretty secure, safe area for wildlife," she said.

There's a desirable and relatively reliable food supply, hunters can't shoot them with rifles, and predators are less likely to venture into town. All in all it makes for an ideal home.”

She believes the problem has grown as deer that have become accustomed to urban living have offspring.

"What we’re seeing is a couple generations of deer that have lived within the town," she said.

She's heard some are so accustomed to people and traffic that they are seen crossing streets at cross walks.

DNR helps manage the deer population through the number of available doe licences. But with towns prohibiting the use of firearms within town limits, deer there are unaffected.

People can make town living less desirable for deer, and George said her best advice is not to feed them. Not only does feeding create a dependency and cause the deer to lose their fear of humans, it also stops them from living the way they were meant to live in the wild.

George said deer repellant products can be sprayed onto plants, but the downside is they have to be reapplied after every rainfall.

Some people have found success using motion-activated devices such as sprinklers, noisemakers or lights to help keep the animals away.

Fencing like the Becks installed is another good solution, she said.

Dogs often deter deer from coming into yards as well. However, homeowners aren’t allowed to let their dogs run at large. If a dog that’s not properly fenced or confined injures a deer, the owner can be charged, she said.

 

Unwelcome guests

In addition to deer, other unwelcome guests known to frequent urban areas in Nova Scotia are black bears and raccoons.

Kim George, regional biologist for the Department of Natural Resources, said what often draws these omnivores is food sources inadvertently left out by residents.

"We seem to have a lot of issues with food attractions when it comes to bears," she said.

This can range from green bins and garbage cans to bird feeders and barbecues.

"Bears have a really good sense of smell, and when food is available they’ll certainly go to that," George said.

She advises people not to feed birds during the summer months, to clean out grease traps on their barbecues on a regular basis, and to make sure garbage is stored properly.

To help reduce the smell of compost bins in the summer, she said homeowners should rinse them out with a bleach solution on a regular basis.

 

Your thoughts

Several readers shared their thoughts about the deer population through The News’ Facebook page. Here's a sampling of the comments as they were written.

Diane McMullin

"I love seeing the deer anywhere. But I’d rather see them in the woods. But with lack of woods, they have to go somewhere. People just need to be more aware and drive accordingly where they know deer are prone to be. Just my opinion."

 

Scott Hefler

"If people would stop cutting down the forest to build suburbs for towns and cities, the deer would have a home. Remember they lived there before you."