February 21st, 2024

City of Medicine Hat eyes deer control bylaw

By COLLIN GALLANT on July 11, 2023.

Residents of the Southeast Hill watch as a group of deer stroll along Fourth Avenue on Nov. 24, 2022.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Hatters wouldn’t be fined for having flowers or fruit trees in front yards, but could face a $500 ticket for more actively feeding or attracting wildlife, according to a proposed bylaw outlined Monday.

That, say officials, could help control the population of urban deer that according to anecdotal evidence are becoming a nuisance, more brave and causing increasing damage to private property.

That creates “an unsafe environment for humans and animals, according to a synopsis provided to the public services committee.

The city has no current bylaw to deal with wildlife inside city limits, and the measure would also lay out fines of $2,500 for chasing, poisoning, otherwise killing or, conversely, keeping a wild animal on public or private property.

A $1,000 fine for trapping a wild animal without authorization, would be in place, as well as $500 fines for providing food to deer in a variety of ways.

“It’s a bylaw in which a reasonable amount of common sense has to take place,” said Brian Stauth, managing director of the public services division. “Bylaws are complaint driving, and we will not have bylaw (officers) out patrolling gardens.”

Members of a city committee also said they prefer tightening a bylaw meant to discourage feeding wildlife, like deer and coyotes, rather than confuse the issue with clauses that refer to stray cats and abandoned bunnies.

That comes as council continues to consider separate changes to bylaws that would allow a “trap, neuter, release” for feral cats program to proceed in the city under the auspices of local human societies.

The deer bylaw, which was requested in the spring of 2022, will advance to council July 17.

“There will be further questions by council,” stated committee chair Coun. Ramona Robins. “But we’re hopefully going to answer as many questions as possible.

City manager Ann Mitchell said a rollout of the bylaw would include educational resources for the public about its provisions.

Council discussed the potential deer bylaw in early 2023, requesting provincial officials be involved to discuss the breakdown of responsibilities with municipal bylaw officers.

Attending Monday’s meeting, Joel Nicholson, a locally-based senior wildlife biologist with the provincial Environment and Protected Place ministry, said the deer population is controlled by two factors, namely hunting and winter kill.

Conditions within cities however, provide reprieve from hunting and more food and relative shelter than in the wild.

“They are well-established populations (in Medicine Hat) habitat, there’s greener landscaping, fruit and also people providing treats,” he said.

His agency cannot provide an estimate on the number of deer in the city. He said his two-person office is not capable or authorized to respond to “nuisance animals” but information is available on the ministry’s website and via the report-a-poacher hotline.

Offences include leaving feed or other attractants on public or private property, failing to secure grease disposal vats or outdoor food storage, or composting meat or dairy products.

That raised a question about bird feeders in front yards that attract deer, but Stauth said residents should be able to make reasonable efforts to keep them inaccessible to animals.

“You can’t dump a bag of grain on the ground and call it a bird feeder,” said Stauth.

Park manager James Will said the city is aware of seniors’ residences that provide feed to attract the animals, and as well, some unsanctioned groups will provide deposits of meat in locations to attract stray cats.

“We don’t want people leaving cans of wet cat food around that will attract other animals and rodents,” he said, specifically denoting coyotes. “There’s a reasonable test that comes into play.”

Stauth, too, said it’s hard to structure a bylaw that will cover every circumstance.

Will said the existence of a bylaw crates “parameters” for enforcement.

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