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Residents urged not to feed deer

Watching deer feed on food purposely left out for them as the sun sets or rises might induce warm, fuzzy feelings.

Watching deer feed on food purposely left out for them as the sun sets or rises might induce warm, fuzzy feelings.

But the controversial practice can actually harm and even potentially kill the animals, not to mention put people and their pets more at risk of confrontations with wildlife.

Citing Fish and Wildlife biologists, Sundre's community peace officer recently told the Round Up that deer have in some instances actually been found dead with full stomachs. During the fall and winter seasons, the animals' digestive systems adapt to improve their ability to process the likes of twigs and dead grass, said Kevin Heerema.

"When they get high quality or nutrient food, their bodies can't break it down."

Making matters worse, people are more exposed to the potential for undesirable encounters with powerful wild animals that react unpredictably at the best of times, he said.

Although the peace officer has never heard of any deaths resulting from a confrontation with a deer, Heerema said the potential for serious injuries is quite real. With its sharp hooves and strong legs, a deer can viciously and repeatedly pummel a person or pet who's been knocked down with a plethora of blows.

Many residents have even expressed fears on social media recently that it's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt, or worse, and suggest the municipality should create a bylaw to prohibit people from feeding wildlife.

However, that's not necessarily Heerema's preferred course of action. While he certainly agrees that residents should refrain from feeding deer, education and awareness are a more favourable approach than creating more regulations, he said.

"I'd rather educate folks and get voluntary compliance than enforce a law."

Creating a bylaw to prohibit people from feeding deer would also have to apply to all wildlife, he said.

"I don't want to tell people they can't have a bird feeder in their backyard."

But there is a safety concern for the public at large that is exacerbated by the handful of residents who feed deer. As more of the animals stray into Sundre in the search for easy food, the potential for traffic collisions increases, as does the likelihood of a negative encounter or confrontation with people or pets. Additionally, wherever prey animals like deer wander, predators such as cougars, bears and wolves naturally are not too far behind, he said.

"That message has gone out a few times, but it seems to be falling on deaf ears. Perhaps people aren't seeing the predators, but they are out there," the peace officer said, adding there are telltale indications of predators lurking in the area.

"I'm scared people won't take that message seriously until there's a serious confrontation with either a resident or a pet. That's my biggest fear, is that people won't take it seriously enough until it's too late."

Other detrimental ramifications to having more deer in the community include damage caused to gardens as well as landscaping throughout the municipality. Another problem that stems from feeding deer is that as more of the animals come into town, a greater strain is placed on local natural food sources, he said.

The only benefit to feeding deer is the personal satisfaction people might enjoy from observing the animals in their yards, he said.

"Everything else about feeding the deer is negative."

Officially, only one complaint about a resident feeding deer has been reported recently, the peace officer said, adding he has not personally seen deer acting aggressively towards people.

"But I have heard reports of deer following somebody, or looking for a handout."

Expecting to get fed, the animals approach people and could become confrontational if they don't get something, he said.

While some residents enjoy observing wildlife and go so far as to encourage deer by feeding them, many others have pointed out how the ramifications could be dire.

"Stop feeding deer people! Had two in my yard this morning that trampled my dog because she got too close," wrote Khalid Kamaleddine in a post on social media that had as of last week received a few dozen reactions and spurred more than 50 comments from others, most of whom largely seemed to agree with his position.

"Luckily it was a pretty little deer and Harley wasn't injured. STOP FEEDING THE DEER! I have to check my surroundings before going to start my jeep in the mornings cuz they have charged at me before too."

Responding to a comment regarding how deer inevitably will stray into town either way, Kamaleddine added, "I have lived in Sundre my whole life and it was never this bad until people started to feed them for their viewing pleasure."

Even the peace officer has previously felt the angst of an uneasy encounter with a deer during a response to an unrelated work call while he was investigating a complaint. Heerema said he had crossed paths with one of the animals while walking the trails in Sundre along the Red Deer River.

"I was within six feet of it," he said, describing the meeting as "too close for comfort."

"It made me nervous," he told the Round Up. "At what point is it going to be uncomfortable with my presence and decide to run, or charge me?"

After backing up a few steps and making a lot of racket, he carefully walked around the deer, which was well aware of his presence and went back to eating before long, he said.

Anyone with concerns about aggressive wild animals and potential confrontations can contact the local Fish and Wildlife office at 403-638-3805.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up and a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.
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