Coexisting with Our Deer

Rita Dawson of North Oyster, BC, sent me these suggestions for non-lethal urban deer control:

“I live in the rural area of North Oyster, just south of Cedar and north of Ladysmith, within Area “H” of the Cowichan Valley Regional District. My property is right on an ancient deer trail and deer wander through on a regular basis. Plain and simple, human practices are to blame for the over abundance of deer in urban areas. As local forest habitats are decimated by destructive logging, deer are now foraging in densely populated areas. No, people cannot capture deer and put them somewhere else expecting them to stay put. It doesn’t work that way. Don’t waste time, energy, or money trying to do that. Deer follow the food source and will soon be back.

Deer are creatures of habit, that’s why the trails are “ancient”. Once deer establish a pattern of behavior it is very hard to break. Deer will return to a successfully forged area. Therefore if you have had deer damage in the past it is very important to use a control method before you see damage, to “unlearn” the past behavior. Preventing deer damage before it starts is easier than interrupting an established pattern. Once they adapt to your garden, they adopt it, so get inventive. Like all wild animals they are afraid of anything new, so don’t give them a chance to adapt.

What people have to do, as I have learned over the years, is to stop planting food that deer like to eat and, deer like to eat almost everything as they browse like goats. Plant “native” whenever possible. For example, deer do not eat forest ferns, rhododendrons or native ornamental grasses of any variety. Plant fuzzy lamb’s ear, barberries, and cleome…deer don’t like fuzzy, prickly, hairy plants. Think of the end result before purchasing. Here’s a list of Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance.

There are natural defenses people could utilize, one being the use of large, thick woody shrubs which can successfully keep deer from a garden especially if they can’t see through it. Deer don’t like jumping into something they can’t see into or get out of. Thorny plants or extremely thick growth work best.

Most of those flowers and shrubs that are so lovely in nurseries are deer food! Why are people planting food for deer? If people in urban settings absolutely must plant deer food, then fence your property. There are many beautiful solid fencing units available, plus one could always string an “active” line (electrical fence) on top of any new or existing fence. When deer touch that line they receive a shock that conditions them to avoid the fenced area…they’re not dumb. Plus, if concerned about some no-mind humans touching the electric line, put up a sign.

If you can’t fence your property for whatever reason then look for plants that deer find distasteful and quit buying and planting deer food. Add patches of pungent, strongly scented herbs—from garlic and chives, to mint and lavender (lavender attracts bees, just what the gardener wants) sage, thyme, oregano, etc. Besides the attractive flowers you can eat the herbs. We are all interconnected. Work in harmony with nature. The best defense is a good offense, chose deer resistant plants.

As for drivers running into deer, have Deer Crossing signs installed. I had that done where I live because I was tired of finding dead deer at the foot of my driveway. Drivers, Slow Down…we live on an Island, where are you going in such a hurry? Think! Use the Big Human Brain to outsmart deer. Why do humans have to kill (cull) everything? There is no violent solution. Coexist and Do No Harm.”