Dysart beefing up deer feeding policy

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Two community groups and a Haliburton business are calling for Dysart et al council to amend its deer feeding bylaw, slamming legislation tabled earlier this year as “ineffective and based on erroneous and misleading information.”

The Stop Deer Feeding Property Owners Coalition, Haliburton By-The-Lake Owners Association, and Shelley Stiles, owner of Country Rose Flowers and Garden, submitted letters to council Sept. 26 saying the bylaw, approved in July prohibiting deer feeding in most of Haliburton village from May 1 to Sept. 30, required a revisit.

Speaking at the meeting on behalf of the Stop Deer Feeding coalition, Gail Gillespie said Haliburton’s deer population was out of control, blaming people who continue to feed the animals.

“We have a lot of feeders right now… we want a complete ban. There’s so much damage in this town. The deer are not healthy,” Gillespie said. “When there’s too many deer, other species suffer.”

Council spent months debating a bylaw earlier this year. That came after a delegation from Haliburton residents Mike and Debra Landry in December 2022, who believed deer were becoming a nuisance in the downtown. They said the increased presence had led to a significant jump in collisions between vehicles and deer on Dysart roads, with Mike, a retired OPP officer, estimating around 100 collisions annually.

In his letter, Bill McFarland, president of the Haliburton By-The-Lake Owners Association, called on council to amend its bylaw to outlaw the practice year-round.

Mayor Murray Fearrey said that was council’s original intent when the legislation was passed over the summer.

“We need to make sure that’s corrected. Right now, it looks like you can feed them [in the winter], which makes no sense,” the mayor said.

Karl Korpela, Dysart’s chief building official and head of the bylaw department, said the intent of the bylaw was to “ween off the deer” relying on food from people to survive, noting council had recommended implementing a temporary ban with a view to extending the no feed window in future.

Gillespie indicated that reasoning was flawed.

“As soon as you offer any amount of food, the deer is going to stay around. You can’t ween them off,” she said.

Coun. Pat Casey suggested establishing a deer feeding yard “a decent ways out of town” to try and relocate the deer, while providing residents who wish to feed them the chance to continue. He said the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry used to establish the sites, noting there was one near Percy Lake. Gillespie said the ministry no longer endorses them.

In her letter, Stiles said she feels deer are becoming too domesticated. She said she’s been forced to install farm fencing at Country Rose to keep deer away, but has still suffered “substantial” losses due to deer eating the business’ plant material and stock. She asked that council consider extending its no feed boundary past the township yard on Hwy. 118. Coun. Nancy Wood-Roberts suggested council outlaw the practice completely within the limits of Ward 1.

There was also a request to increase fines, currently $150 per offence. While Fearrey indicated he would be in favour, Korpela said the township may have difficulty getting an increase past the attorney general’s office.

“We can apply for whatever fine we want, but the ministry might not approve it. It’s all about being reasonable… I think $150 is a fairly significant fine for something that’s… not a major offence,” Korpela said.

Staff will bring options back to council next month for potential boundary and fine amendments.