Calgary

The deer in this Alberta town look both ways before crossing at the crosswalk

Some say the deer that seem to have settled into an Alberta town are aggressive and need action after two reports five years ago dropped the issue in town council’s lap.

But not everyone in Okotoks agrees there's a problem

The southern Alberta town of Okotoks is looking into a problem of aggressive deer. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Some say the deer that seem to have settled into an Alberta town are aggressive and need action after two reports five years ago dropped the issue in town council's lap.

A task force is now looking at the problem with headcounts, public input and recommendations due later in the year.

But some residents are wondering if they are the same deer that also stop and look both ways before using a crosswalk to cross the street.

"I have never seen deer anywhere else who look both ways before they cross the street and use crosswalks. It's a little creepy but really cool," Whitney Pohl told CBC News.

Whitney Pohl said she's seen deer in Okotoks looking both ways before crossing the street while using a crosswalk. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

She's lived in Okotoks — about 20 kilometres from the southern outskirts of Calgary — for 18 years.

"I quite like them. It is great seeing them around town. They seem to have adapted really well to urbanization," she said.

"I know some people have had issues with their dog but they check my dog and as soon as they see it's on a leash, they don't care, they just keep doing their thing."

Courtney Stephenson says where she lives, the deer use crosswalks. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Another Okotoks resident — who grew up in neighbouring Turner Valley — volunteered her observation of the safety-focused ungulate without being prompted.

"Where I live, they cross at the crosswalk, so at least they are being safe. They do cross at the crosswalk, it's really funny," Courtney Stephenson said with a laugh.

A task force is now looking at the problem with head counts, public input and recommendations due later in the year. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

In spring of 2015, the town received two complaints about aggressive deer, said parks manager Christa Michailuck, using the province's definition of aggression as chasing or kicking at people or pets.

"There have been no reports of anyone getting injured," Michailuck said, "But a couple of reports of pets getting injured."

That pair of complaints had 100 volunteers counting 66 doe in September of that year, the first of several headcounts.

In 2018 two separate surveys found 64 and 38, respectively, in the town of roughly 30,000 residents.

Christa Michailuck is parks manager at the southern Alberta town of Okotoks. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

That same year, those two complaints had tripled to about six, Michailuck said, with yard and garden damage a common theme.

The town posts signs in areas where complaints are received and pushes out messages on social media.

Michailuck says counts are about establishing baseline data.

"So, are we really seeing an increase in population or are we seeing the same cohort of individuals, or are their behaviours changing as they get more accustomed to an urban setting?"

Grant Pryznyk is chair of the town’s urban deer task force. The force will study the problem and offer ideas to council in November. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Grant Pryznyk, the chair of the town's urban deer task force, says this could be the first of its kind in the province, although Pincher Creek is also looking at the problem.

"The deer were getting into their gardens, eating flowers and vegetables. There were instances of aggressive deer around people who were walking, especially with dogs," Pryznyk said.

There are things residents can do, he said, including adding deer-repelling plants to gardens, building higher fences and avoiding feeding them.

"The residents have a major role to play in this. The town can't do it all by themselves," Pryznyk said.

Jennifer Tomlin says she likes the deer. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Jennifer Tomlin — who has lived in the area since 1984 — agrees with personal responsibility.

"I think it's pleasant because I like seeing wildlife. I don't want to see humans take over anymore, quite honestly. I would like to see us live compatibly with the wildlife," Tomlin said.

"I wouldn't like to see them killing them. I really wouldn't."

In 2015, volunteers counted 66 deer. Then two surveys in 2018 revealed 64 and 38 respectively. Okotoks has a population of roughly 30,000. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The task force reports back to council in November with ideas.

But some say today, we already have the answers.

"I am not sure what the end result is supposed to be," Pohl said.

"They don't bother me," adds Stephenson, "There are quite a few. You see them probably every day almost. We live in an area that has lots of parks and rivers, so it is to be expected."

With files from Dave Gilson

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