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Oh deer: how to react during wildlife encounters in southern Alberta

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Due to an increase in suburban development and the enhancement of green areas, encountering deer within city limits can be quite common in Alberta. If you’ve seen any roaming around Lethbridge, you’re not alone.

Jalen Hulit, a biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association, says Lethbridge has a unique feature that provides wildlife their own hideaway.

“With the river valley and the vast coulee system that we have basically splitting the city in half, it acts as a corridor for [lots] of wildlife species to move from one end of the city to the other without being detected by humans,” Hulit explained.
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Hulit says with the warm seasonal temperatures and an increase in animals within the coulee system are contributing to the uptick in activity.

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As well, this time of year deer are in the midst of their mating season, which Hulit says contributes to them venturing into more populous areas.

“That’s why you’re probably seeing… a few bucks in with a few does,” he added.

“So you’re seeing maybe a larger herd that you would in spring or summertime throughout the city, whereas you might see one or two.”

Read more: Okanagan woman bringing first wildlife rehabilitation centre to the valley

With this comes an increase in human-wildlife conflict, both for pedestrians and drivers.

While deer are not aggressive animals, they are known to be protective of their young in the spring.

Regardless of the time of year, there are specific ways to react.

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“The best way to avoid conflict is just to give them space,” Hulit said, adding drivers should take extra precautions as well.

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“Keep your eyes out in the ditches, especially if you’re going up Whoop-Up or Scenic when you’re right on top of the coulee,” Hulit explained.

“There’s a great chance deer might be coming out of the coulee, so just keep your eyes peeled for that.”

To prevent collisions with wildlife, the province suggests a variety of precautions such as reducing speed at dawn and dusk, scanning ditches, using high beams to catch the light in their eyes, and paying attention to wildlife warning signs.

In the event a person hits wildlife such as deer, moose or elk, they must call Fish and Wildlife or Report A Poacher if the animal appears to be injured but alert. Animals can caused major hazards on highways and removing roadkill is done by highway maintenance contractors.

Read more: Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation has cared for a record 2,000 animals in 2020

Longtime local bird-watcher Ken Orich says he encounters his fair share of flightless animals while on excursions.

“When I’m out birdwatching, I see lots of deer — both white-tailed and mule deer,” he said. “Coyotes. Every once in a while I get lucky and see a badger. I certainly see quite a few rabbits.”

Over the past 60 years, Orich says he hasn’t had any harmful or negative encounters, learning to gauge each situation. He’s seen everything from a herd of 100 pronghorn to bucks sparring in a cemetery.

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“I just pay attention to their behaviour and usually if they’re really agitated by your presence, there will be indicators and you’ll see that.”

Orich adds his love of birdwatching has allowed him to experience many wonders hidden away in southern Alberta’s nature and he won’t let potential wildlife encounters get in his way.

“If you pay attention, there’s all kinds of excitement and beautiful things to see.”

The Lethbridge Christmas Bird Count, coordinated by Orich, will be taking place on Dec. 19.

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