On Wednesday morning a Global News crew spotted several mule deer were enjoying a mid-morning snack on trees outside the Okotoks library. More were lying in a back alley a few blocks away.
All of them were indifferent to the Global News camera and passing cars and pedestrians.
“You just ignore them and they usually do ignore you. But again you never know, because they are wild animals. You don’t know what to expect for sure,” Okotoks resident Terri-Jo Hulshof said.
But don’t let their relaxed demeanour fool you. The problem with deer in Okotoks goes beyond munching on tulips.
Six aggressive deer incidents were reported in Okotoks in 2019 where the wildlife kicked or chased a person or pet.
“We’ve had a number of aggressive, dangerous interactions with deer,” Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said.
A deer count and survey was conducted in 2018 that showed 30 per cent of respondents reported damage caused by deer and wanted something done about it. Twenty-three per cent reported feeling unsafe. Forty-two per cent said they love having the deer in their yard and do not mind the damage they do.
“You have to keep alert and if a deer approaches you, stop and back off, and if you can: keep your distance,” Grant Pryznyk said. He is the chair of the task force and a former fishery officer.
“If you feel like it could be a threat you can walk around with a Nordic walking stick. Some people have even used broomsticks to persuade the deer to stay away,” he said.
The seven members of the Urban Deer Task Force met for the first time on Thursday, Dec. 12.
“I think the whole thing is about educating the public as to how to interact with deer,” said Robertson. “If you’re walking your dog, I personally have considered carrying pepper spray.”
There are an estimated 60 deer living in Okotoks, with plenty of food sources and few predators.
Pryznyk said they’ll be looking at a number of solutions including public education and reducing deer numbers.
“We will look at various options. We can go right up from status quo all the way down to removal of deer.
Some municipalities have done culls but we are still considering what’s going to be happening,” Pryznyk said.
He said dealing with the urban wildlife is going to be a balancing act with residents playing a big part. “They have to realize the deer are wild animals and they are nice to have around but you can’t encourage them by feeding them. It doesn’t do the wildlife any good,” Pryznyk said.
An action plan from the task force is due back to council by the end of 2020.