Deer, Elk & Moose (Ungulates)

There is rising concern in many B.C. communities about the growing number of deer in urban areas which create issues such as higher rates of car accidents involving deer, aggressive behavior towards humans and damage to gardens.

Review & Analysis of Deer Conflicts

Provincial government staff conducted a thorough review of urban deer conflicts to:

  • Identify the scope of the conflict
  • Review current information about conflict reduction, including management practices in other jurisdictions and their effectiveness
  • Provide recommendations for conflict reduction programs and effective management practices

Read the report:

The next steps are to share this report with local municipalities and work collaboratively to assist them with the implementation of the recommendations. Successful resolution will involve cooperation and partnership between the provincial government, municipal governments, and community stakeholders.

Controlling Ungulate Conflicts

Choose one of the following options to learn more about managing ungulate behaviours:

Ungulates can be discouraged from causing damage to plants and gardens through the use of barriers. Burlap sacks or sheeting can be placed over top of plants and trees during the winter months to prevent browsing. Wrap each plant you think may be browsed with burlap or other inexpensive cloth or netting from near the ground to the maximum height you expect to be browsed.

  • Deer can reach to about 1.3 meters, while elk can reach to as much as 2.0 meters
  • Similar techniques would work in summer but generally are not useful because they are unappealing visually.

String or rope can also be used on some trees in a similar fashion to that used to protect from snow damage. The tight form of the wrapped tree and the solid surface created makes it difficult for ungulates to browse.

Netting can be used to protect large areas. Depending of the type and design of the netting it can be removed during the day.  Netting doesn't inhibit the growth of plants whereas the use of burlap during the summer growing season might.

Chicken wire or stucco wire with a small enough mesh size (< 4cm) can also be used to prevent damage to crops or gardens. Short pieces can be used to wrap individual plants. Longer pieces can be used to protect hedges. These may be tied directly to the plants or may be propped in place using temporary fence posts such as rebar or wooden stakes.

Barriers can initially be quite expensive to install. Barriers are however re-usable year after year making them cost effective.

Scare products along with fencing are options for dealing with crop damage being caused by ungulates.

If there is a lawful hunting season open at the time and in the location that the crop damage is taking place there is the option of contacting the local rod and gun club to arrange for hunters to come and harvest the conflict animals.

The Wildlife Act doesn't authorize the owner of agricultural property to destroy wildlife that is damaging or eating crops.

You can also contact your producer association for advice and guidance, for example the BC Cattleman’s Association.

Most garden plants are low growing and are therefore available to browsing ungulates. However, the development of new commercial fruit varieties, which are much smaller trees than were available 30 years ago, has increased the conflict.

Plant tree varieties that will rapidly grow out of reach of deer and elk.

Prune trees to a form that eliminates their browse damage and you will greatly reduce the degree of damage experienced. Where deer and bighorn sheep are the main conflict the trees need only be pruned up to about 1.5 meters above the ground. Elk require higher pruning and bigger trees to prevent damage as they are taller and also have a habit of pushing over small trees to get at upper limbs. It may be necessary to go to 2 metres to prevent elk damage.

Protect the trees until they are out of reach through fencing or barriers such as netting or burlap. Fine netting or woven monofilament netting may also be suitable. These are available in long, wide pieces that can be draped over entire rows. Posts around small trees are useful in preventing breakage when the trees are still small and protect trees from antler rubbing in autumn. Very young trees can be protected with mesh net tubes that are available commercially.

An alternative to large apple trees may be to use the new trellis varieties with close tree spacing. These are grown like a hedge and can be protected in winter with fencing tied along each side to an appropriate height for deer or elk.

Deer are attracted to many popular garden and landscape plants but avoid others. Certain plants may not suffer deer damage in some gardens and landscapes, yet might be completely destroyed in others.

This is due in part to the availability of natural food sources and the taste preferences of individual deer or elk. If there is a shortage of natural deer browse, deer resistant plants may suffer. In addition, homes often occupy the best winter habitat, where snow depths are least and the deer and elk move in because of deep snow nearby. Since they are often starving in winter, they put additional pressure on plants they might not touch in summer.

Native plants are better adapted to the local climate than their exotic counterparts, and should be considered first in landscape planning. For example spruce and western red cedar are much more resistant to browse damage than emerald or pyramid cedars.

Some of the plants that are desirable as food items for deer are capable of recovering rapidly from damage though resprouting while others are incapable of resprouting or regaining their original form.

Particular care should be taken to avoid the use of certain plants that cannot regain their intended form in applications such as hedges. Popular decorative cedar hedges, for example, are very poor at regaining their original form once browsed.

Both native and introduced plants are listed. Always consult a local nursery to select species that best fit your needs and your local climate.

List of deer-resistant plants: The Master Gardner's Association of B.C. has created the following list of deer-resistant plants. It's intended as a guideline and was developed from a variety of sources which might not all be equally reliable. Note that no plant is completely deer resistant, particularly when deer densities are high.

 

For nurseries, orchards, pastures and large gardens fencing is often the only way to prevent damage from wild animals.

Common fence designs for protecting crops and gardens from wildlife damage incorporate either woven wire mesh, electrically charged wire or a combination of both.

Electric fences that are constructed along public right of ways should be posted with warning signs. Installation of fencing can be a relatively inexpensive proposition for home gardens and fencing is more effective than repellents.

Non-electric fences should be at least 8 feet high with no gaps between the fence and the ground.

Barbed wire fences should be discouraged. They are prone to causing injuries to wildlife. Single strand wire in combination with barbed wire (top strand) is effective for cattle containment. A single strand of electrical wire along the top of the fence is also an option.

Fences must be checked on and maintained on a regular basis to ensure that they haven't been damaged and that they are functioning properly. Basic fencing design, cost of materials/foot, cost per foot/year, and life expectancy of fencing can be found by contacting your local fencing or garden supply shop.

Leashed dogs (scare device) can be used to deter ungulates from feeding on crops or damaging gardens and ornamental trees.

  • Under Section 78 of the Wildlife Act, a person commits an offence if they cause or allow a dog to hunt or pursue wildlife.

Repellents discourage deer feeding by having either an offensive taste or odour. No repellent is continuously effective, and what works in one location may be ineffective in another. Repellents are unlikely to work on large groups of ungulates. Fencing is the best solution in that case.

There are a number of chemical and naturally based deer repellents available on the market today:

  • Some chemically based products may not be safe for use on vegetables or plants that are intended for human consumption. Be sure to read the product label/talk to the manufacturer before applying the repellent to food products.
  • Some repellents can kill symbiotic parasites/bugs that live on plants and flowers and help protect them from disease.
  • Home remedies such as hanging bags of hair, soap, rotten eggs or animal urine are not trustworthy, long-term repellents. Over-the-counter repellents have been the most successful deterrent for non-commercial users experiencing light to moderate damage.
  • Repellents must be applied frequently and vigilantly prior to and during the period of anticipated damage in order to be effective. For example, repellents should be applied to plants prior to planting and reapplied during the growing season.
  • Consult a local nursery to select a deer repellent that may be effective for your needs

There are number products on the market which are based on motion detectors that will activate lights, make sonic or ultrasonic noises or spray water.  Most are sold as successful deterrents for small animals such as dogs, cats, raccoons, and occasionally deer. They are typically effective over a relatively small area due to the limited range of motion detectors (10 metres).

These mechanisms respond immediately to the presence of animals and the animals are less likely to become used to the noise or light.

Motion detectors can be wired into lawn sprinkler systems providing an effective night-time water-based scare device/repellent.  A certified electrician should do the wiring.

Commercial scare devices such as propane exploder cannons are also available. These devices produce very loud bangs at regular intervals, which drive away deer, elk and birds. They are only suitable for large areas and make too much noise for residential neighbourhoods.

Bangers or cracker shells fired from orchard launchers can be used to scare off ungulates.

  • Municipal bylaws may limit the use of some scare devices
  • Commercial scare devices are available at many nurseries and hardware stores
  • Contact the local bylaw department before using audible scare devices