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Redcliff Council learns more about living with ‘urban deer’

Posted on June 1, 2022 by 40 Mile Commentator

By Samantha Johnson

At the regularly scheduled Council meeting on May 24th ungulates, primarily the urban deer population, was under discussion with a presentation by Fish and Wildlife. 

A presentation was given to Council by Joel Nicholson, Medicine Hat Area Senior Wildlife Biologist called Urban Ungulates: Living with Deer. The full presentation can be viewed at the Town of Redcliff website under the Government tab for the May 24th meeting. 

Urban places for wildlife occur along riverine and creek valleys, which provide ungulate habitat and movement. Lawn, shrubberies, and flowers provide abundant food and places of security. Generally, people like seeing wildlife and can entice them by feeding them. Issues with deer include destruction to gardens, vehicle collisions, predators being attracted into urban environments and, at times, aggression.

During 2010-2011 there were large numbers of deer mortality due to the severe winter. Sometimes hard winter effects can be mitigated in urban areas, such as when deer feed off apple trees, with towns and cities effectively propping their populations up.  Alberta Environment and Parks have a mandate to manage wildlife for the benefit of people, which are allocated within wildlife management units, and involves conservation, harvesting and public safety. They also regulate by permitting certain things to occur, such as research. From a municipality standpoint, the town would be responsible for managing bylaws. 

There are currently 1305 mule deer, not low or high deer density, within the Wildlife Management Unit that encompasses the Town of Redcliff. They are not evenly distributed as the number is based on the entire area. 1155 is the goal for this unit and 2022 will see 175 antlerless and 96 antlered tags issued. There is a priority for an aerial survey of this Unit to get an up-to-date population estimate. 

In terms of when deer become aggressive, there was an instance in Medicine Hat when a dog was attacked because it got too close to a fawn. The deer was not behaving abnormally, and the incident occurred because the individuals with the dog did not prevent the encounter.  Fish and Wildlife will manage conflict situation that are a public safety issue. There was a situation in Medicine Hat recently where a large buck was wrapped in Christmas lights and had to be tranquilized as it became an animal welfare issue.  The public wasn’t helping with numerous people following the buck around because they wanted to snag his antlers.  

For Redcliff, an educational program and putting a no feeding bylaw in place would be good first steps as there has been questionable behaviour witnessed by residents in town, such as woman trying to get her dog into a herd of deer so she could take a photo. There is not a simple, quick-fix solution to the issues. 

One of the questions asked of Council is if there are bylaws in other towns that have worked? Bylaws are being implemented in Alberta to prevent feeding of wildlife except for bird feeders, although they have to be high enough off the ground. Elkwater has gone further and prevented bird feeders as they were attracting deer, which in turn were bringing cougars into the townsite. Implementing a no feeding bylaw will help prevent large numbers of deer gathering onto a single property, thus easing tensions between neighbours. Feeding of wildlife creates habituation as they learn where ready food is available and congregate there and can also lead to deer aggression as they defend the space. It’s all about finding the right balance. 

Nicholson told Council that a no feeding bylaw would be well justified. From a wildlife management standpoint feeding is discouraged to prevent large gatherings of deer (or any wildlife) in one spot, which increases the possibility of disease transfer from one animal to another. Of particular concern is Chronic Wasting Disease that affects all ungulates. It is a prion disease that targets the brain and spinal cord and is always fatal once contracted. 

Following the Fish and Wildlife presentation, the rest of the meeting went by quickly. All three readings of the Tax Rate Bylaw occurred without any further discussion or questions. Tax notices were sent out on May 26th.  

Redcliff Days is scheduled for June 17-19 with the parade on June 18th. The requested road closures are similar to previous years and the decision was carried unanimously without any questions or concerns. The question of if a marshal for the parade had been appointed came up after but it seems this is still being worked on.

The new electronic sign for the town brought more discussion. The first was the project had a budget of $100,000 and over $30,000 has been spent already but the sign still hasn’t been bought. The money was used for engineer and design work. The current sign does not meet land use bylaw as it is too close to the setback. Council wanted more information on the PM Signs, but administration stated that, after some research, they discovered PM Sign had issues with parts availability and the screen/pixels on two of their signs in Medicine Hat started going out within 6 months. Administration wasn’t confident Redcliff would be getting the best value from PM Signs and there was the added issue of their signs not stating a temperature specification. City Signs and Canvas Shop is local and meets all the specifications for the sign and Council carried the motion to give the contract to City Signs. 

The accounts Payable List elicited several questions. The first was about the price of the batteries for the auto-flush toilets, which came to $1,289.04. The price was for two batteries and administration acknowledged they are expensive but need to be bought. The next question was concerning freight charges amounting to $2,135.14 and what they were for, which was shipping of the water treatment plant chemical as it is ordered in large quantities. A brief discussion took place about why Redcliff uses Lethbridge mobile shredding and not a local company, such as Redi and it is due to the cost difference, with Lethbridge being cheaper although it was noted their prices had gone up recently. 

Budget Report until the end of April was received for information without questions or concerns. 

Project updates brought a couple of questions. The first was if the water treatment plant demolition is it permanently on hold. It is until the fall and other options for use of the building are still being looked into. The arena floor needs to be replaced and research into the best solution revealed it doesn’t matter what type of coolant is used, having a brine system is the best option. 

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