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COLUMN: Survey results show deer divide

With almost 2,600 survey responses, many in Okotoks weighed in on deer issue and now await next steps from the Town.
SA-Deer Crossing Road BWC 1828 web
A deer makes its way across McRae Street in Olde Towne Okotoks.

If you need further evidence that urban deer continues to be a divisive issue in Okotoks, the results of the Town’s recent survey have provided ample proof. 

The online survey posed 10 questions, one of which asked: What is your overall impression of deer in Okotoks? Just over 40 per cent chose the following response: “I think it's nice to have them. We need to share urban space with local wildlife.” An almost identical number preferred: “I think there are too many deer and some form of management action is required.” 

Talk about conflicting advice, although I think a case could be made that the positions aren’t mutually exclusive. The good news is the survey provided other insights that Town council could use to move forward without alienating half of the population. 

Responses to one of the other questions asked — Have you used deer-deterrent strategies in your yard? — made it clear that efforts to this point haven’t been sufficient to address the issue. Almost 50 per cent said they’ve undertaken various strategies but the deer are still a pain, while less than 10 per cent said their efforts had proven successful. When asked about fencing for properties bordering open spaces, the clear favourite was increasing the height of non-solid varieties to 7.5 feet, an idea that’s been on the table for several years.  

So, it seems logical that council would move forward with permanent provisions for taller fencing, although that in itself is only going to do so much. It would help limit garden damage for those properties bordering open spaces by making their back yards more difficult to access, although most with those concerns have already added temporary extensions.

Such a move does nothing to address issues with damage to front yards throughout the community or on other fronts, including for the more than 30 per cent of survey respondents who said they feel somewhat or very unsafe when deer are nearby. 

Measures that satisfy everyone don’t exist, but there are a couple of numbers from the online survey conducted earlier this year that should grab the attention of civic leaders as they grapple with next steps. The first is that the Town received a whopping 2,591 responses, far more than the 380 it got in a similar consultation effort five years ago, which makes it clear this issue has only intensified over the past few years. 

The other number is 139, which is the tally of deer in what the Town admits was an unscientific count earlier this year. That’s up about 10 per cent from the same time a year earlier and approximately 30 per cent higher than totals from similar counts taken two and three years ago. It's not a big number, but it would stand to reason that trajectory will continue given the circumstances, which is only going to exacerbate the situation. 

The Town asked for input on the deer issue and got it in spades, so now it’s up to council members to decide how to move forward. Many of us are waiting to see what happens next. I suspect the deer are too. 

Ted Murphy

About the Author: Ted Murphy

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