Deer in the City

Wildlife biologists say that we should be managing our ecosystems for the good of all inhabitants, including people. Many people don’t want to and don’t know how. We have forsaken not only our ancestors’ destructive ways but much of their hands-on nature know-how as well. Our knowledge of nature arrives on screens, where wild animals are often packaged to act like cuddly little people that our Earth Day instincts tell us to protect.

–“America Gone Wild,”  Wall Street Journal online,  Adapted from “Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned
Backyards into Battlegrounds” by Jim Sterba

The Problem

In North America, the whitetail deer population  is estimated at 20 million. Similar densities exist in the United Kingdom.

Raeside cartoonEuropean fallow deer were introduced to James Island, near Victoria, BC, for sport hunting at the turn of the [19th/20th] century. The population then spread to Sidney, Mayne, Saturna and Galiano Islands. The deer can cover more than 1.5 kilometres in their island-hopping expeditions. Fallow deer have voracious appetites and pose a threat to the rare Garry oak ecosystem, as well as vineyards and gardens. Black-tailed deer are endemic to the Southern Gulf Islands, as are wolves, cougars and bears. However, by the late 1800’s, Europeans had removed large predators from the region.

At these increasing densities, deer have the capacity to prevent the growth of several species of meadow plants known to have been abundant in the past, including camas,
fawn and chocolate lilies, trillium, sea blush, lupine, and wild onions. As palatable native plant species decline, it is inevitable that birds, insect pollinators and other species will also decline.

It is estimated that there are still 600 to 800 cougars on Vancouver Island. Deer in the city draw cougars into the city.

The kind thing to do, it seems, would be just to let the deer have their way. But that short-term kindness is inadvertent cruelty. In urban environments without natural population restraints, deer densities are often 10 times what they should be. That jeopardizes the health of the deer population and increases the incidence of disease and infestations of insects and ticks. . .The more deer, the more likelihood of collisions with cars. . .Death from a bolt gun might sound harsh; death by auto is far worse, with human lives also at risk.

–“Few Solutions to Deer Problem,” an editorial in Victoria’s Times Colonist newspaper, November 14, 2013

Possible Solutions (and more problems)

  • Installing eight-foot fences around protected plants. However, fences must be maintained, and deer may damage or destroy them;
  • Acquire a dog trained to frighten away, but not hurt, the deer;
  • Shooting water or sound to frighten the deer;
  • Spreading natural predators’ urine and feces in the area;
  • Installing select feeding stations away from protected vegetation areas;
  • Relocating the deer; however, this is costly and very stressful for the deer, who often die soon after they are moved;
  • Deer culls, which are only effective if the culls continue every year;
  • Contraception,  however:
    • the cost is high, $600 to $800 per doe;
    • a large proportion of females (70 to 90%) must be treated;
    • untreated deer will continue to migrate in from adjacent areas;
    • deer must be captured to administer the contraceptive.This is stressful for the deer.

 In May 2013, Prince Andrew was visiting Victoria to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Highland Games. Touring the gardens at Government House, the prince stopped to talk with a large group of volunteers present for his official opening of the rose garden gates.

Prince Andrew asked why there were no roses in the rose garden, one of the volunteer gardeners recalled.

We told him the deer had been eating them and that we’d like to cull the deer, but we can’t because it’s not politically correct and has not been approved by the City or the Capital Regional District.

Prince Andrew looked at the volunteers as if they were crazy, she said.

He said “It’s very simple. This is what we do at Balmoral. You just get a truck. You fill it with feed. The deer come up to it and you shoot them. It’s so simple.”

–“Princely advice on deer intruders in Government House gardens,” article in Victoria’s Times Colonist newspaper, November 29, 2014


A reader commented on my last post (The Running of the Deer): “We must find creative ways of living with nature, and allowing it to expand and thrive alongside our human life-styles.” None of the above “solutions” seems very creative to me. I welcome your comments and suggestions.

"Deer in the City", collagraph, 6" x 9"

“Deer in the City”, collagraph, 6″ x 9″


23 thoughts on “Deer in the City

  1. I think I would like the deer better if they only came to forage in the garden when their natural food was becoming scarce. What they do instead is walk through the lush Spring grass to get to the plump rose buds just before they open. I’m a guest in their territory, however, in my little house in the woods, so I live with their thieving ways. The best I can do is to have a nice guard dog to warn them away which works pretty well mostly. (You should add dogs to your list!) We have a deer hunting season here in the Fall. Hunters can purchase a tag and get a buck each year. I guess this thinning out of the males is a form of contraception and works pretty well. Deer in the city is a whole other thing. Once a place becomes citified, it belongs to humans and they should be able to exclude deer if they wish. In your print, the little deer is the object that a school child would circle if asked which object doesn’t belong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, they go straight for the roses every time! I have added your guard dog suggestion to my list (item number 2).

      I like your concept of the city belonging to humans and being under the control of humans. The vision of a school child circling the deer as the “object that doesn’t belong” is a delight. Thank you!


  2. Your prints are excellent! The deer problem is one that humans have created. I feel that we need to take responsibility. A combination of contraception, feeding deep in the forest, and spreading predator scent warnings make the most sense at this time. Developers should set aside funds for displaced wildlife populations, kept in an escrow to use as needed, at least and until we can find a better way. That incentive alone may inspire some real solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I”m pleased to receive so many thoughtful comments on this post. During my research, I read one article that implored our Provincial government to decide what should be done about ‘the deer problem’. It’s interesting to consider a combination of solutions, perhaps mandated across jurisdictions but enacted in a way that fits local situations. As I said in my last post, we are conflicted in our view of deer and other wildlife, and that makes it very difficult to achieve any kind of consensus.


  3. A beautiful print and I love the one on your header too.
    We have a terrible problem with a non- native deer, the Asian Muntjac which escaped from Woburn Abbey, the Duke of Bedford’ s estate and has become a terrible pest in the U K. They leave a trail of destruction wherever they go and they breed at an alarming rate.. Even though they are only small they have vicious tusks and they are not afraid to use them. My dog was attacked by one and needed treatment for his injuries. Our wildflowers are already under threat because of loss of habitat and these horrible rats on hooves are gobbling them up at a terrible rate. And if you get them in the garden you might as well give up. Culls are the only answer.


    • You point out something that many people never consider: that much of the deer population is non-native. In effect, they are an invasive species. The concerns of gardeners are often dismissed as trivial and selfish, but it is the gardeners who are most aware of the precious wild plants and the sadness of their loss.


  4. Wonderful print, and your new banner image is intriguing! On the question of the deer, I come down on the side on culling. Nature is unsentimental about disharmony, and we can take the lead from the natural world. Kangaroos in Australia have to be culled else they’d decimate agricultural regions. The Aboriginal peoples, pre-white settlement, set fire to huge tracts of land to keep the land regenerating. Loss is necessary.


    • Loss IS necessary, and nature itself is “red in tooth and claw”. A friend who delivers mail is often terrorized by groups of young stags hanging around in urban gardens here. Her tongue-in-cheek and rather roundabout solution is to relocate the deer and leave them to die of stress or inability to adapt to the new environment or to be gobbled up by cougars. Of course, this would lead to an increase in the cougar population, but if we kept on exporting the deer perhaps the cougars would stay outside the cities and suburbs.


  5. Thank you for this thoughtful post. Yes, we should be able to co-exist with wild life in our crowded cities but how to do this? I found your banner photo stunning. Is this a piece of your art?


  6. My first thought was also that the two prints make a pair – the deer in its “natural” habitat and in the city – I love the planes.
    We have such problems when we meddle with nature by moving organisms into a new environment. It makes you wonder how nature manages so well when left by itself, with everything in its “proper” ecological niche. I suppose it has all taken time, and even then there is constant adjustment.
    Prince Andrew was so right, but aren’t Royalty funny!
    All the best 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about how nature manages so well when left by itself. Many “catastrophes” are only defined as bad because they interfere with mankind’s plans: plagues of locusts, for example. However, entire species, like the dinosaurs, have been wiped out in the past with no interference by humanity.

      Yes, Royalty can be very funny. Having seen Balmoral (just from the road), I can believe that its deer problem could easily rival that of a small city like ours.


      • Whitetail deer are edible, so I assume the European fallow deer are too. Deer meat is called venison, and the etymology of the word provides some historical and cultural insight. The word traces back to Latin vēnātiō, meaning ‘hunting’. Apparently deer were the prime animals that Europeans hunted.

        Here in Austin (Texas), and especially the hilly western part of town where I live, whitetail deer are native and quite widespread. It’s common to see them walking through our neighborhood looking for food, so some gardeners choose deer-resistant plants for their front yards. The availability of plants and the fact that some people feed the deer have led to large deer populations. The same sorts of debates you’ve outlined about what to do about those large populations occur here as well. In the meantime the deer are thriving.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for taking the time to comment. The connection between venison and hunting is telling, isn’t it? Before our last move, we lived out of town in a wooded area. The deer munched their way through my flower beds on a regular basis (grrrr). It was a love/hate relationship for me, though. One winter, an orphaned fawn was hanging around the property. We actually went out and bought “deer feed” for him. One day, he didn’t show up and the following summer, we found the small skeleton in the woods. It was a touching sight.


  7. That’s a fine print! a good pair with the other one on the deer theme.
    I have to agree with Prince Andrew on the subject; we should be more responsible for our actions, past and present, and ignore the ‘cuteness’ factor.
    I am sure that if they would have been some ugly creatures we wouldn’t have to discuss about this problem…on the other hand other ‘not so cute’ species (mammals, insects and plants) are overlooked and sink into oblivion without anyone worrying about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for mentioning the prints as a pair. I think of them that way, too. And, yes, I haven’t heard of any “Save The Rats!” campaigns, although I did read recently that the Black Death in 14th century Europe might have been exacerbated by the burning of cats, as they were thought to be the familiars of witches.


  8. Ahh! I know a little about this subject! (grin) I hear this a lot. My grandson is a Wildlife Biologist who also has a hunting business, where he guides hunters . Prince Andrew’s solutions seems too sneaky!

    My father was a hunter of deer, and tried to teach me very early that if we don’t control them, they will either destroy or starve to death for lack of food. Now I have 2 grandsons who are hunters, and who eat what they catch.

    Nevertheless, I cannot bring myself to kill them. Your new print is wonderful with the planes over the city. I also like the new theme picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Too sneaky, ha ha! I’m so happy to read your comment. It’s a tricky issue and we all seem to do a lot of hand wringing about it and little else. I’m glad you like the print and the theme picture. I’m fond of those planes. 🙂


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