Fact versus emotion

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There is plenty of research about why humans should not feed deer, especially in urban areas.

People have complained about having their flowers and vegetables eaten. Some of us have hit deer with our vehicles. We’re walking on deer droppings.

We’re also hurting – not helping – the deer. They are converging at feeding sites and sharing diseases and parasites. Humans can pick up some of these and there may be more ticks around. They are leaving optimal winter shelter to come to the village. Artificial feeding is actually disrupting their winter cycle of getting leaner. Their metabolism gets sped up and they burn their fat reserves quicker.

Here’s the tough one: yes, some deer starve during extreme winters. It’s upsetting to many people, but winter mortality is a natural process that helps keep the deer population at long-term sustainable levels. Also, a lot of the man-made food isn’t good for deer, anyway. It messes with their digestive system. Deer can actually starve to death with a stomach full of food they can’t digest.

And, of course, by feeding them, we take away their wildness. They become dependent on easy food sources and don’t eat as much of their natural food. Young deer don’t know how to forage. They’re not afraid of us. While I was out taking photos for stories in today’s paper, I turned to find a young deer about six feet away from me, looking for a handout.

At feeding sites, deer can fight, some get stressed out, others injured.

The folks behind the Stop Deer Feeding Property Owners Coalition have come up with three pages of research with references.

They’ve been working on the file the last two months, as well as collecting 720 signatures for a petition they presented to Dysart et al council last week, calling for an immediate, year-round, ban on deer feeding in Haliburton village.

They don’t think phasing in a ban will work. They believe that just reducing the amount of deer feeding, or allowing feeding for part of the year, will still result in significant numbers of deer in the village. They argue it’s not far for town deer to migrate to areas with natural sources of food, and where deer feeding will still be allowed, so mass starvation resulting from a complete feed ban is unlikely.

On the other side of the coin are people who feed deer. They make some pretty powerful emotional arguments.

A delegate to last week’s council meeting has sent a follow-up letter to the mayor.

She concedes there are too many deer in town but thinks an immediate ban is cruel.

She is proposing a committee of the Stop Deer Feeding group, with feeders, and council, to come up with a phased-in solution.

For example, she wonders if some feeders can be exempted from the bylaw to do responsible feeding outside of town.

She said people such as her need some peace of mind in order to willingly comply.

She told the mayor it will be very difficult for her and others to ignore the deer’s hungry faces this winter but they would if there was a better plan. She said they will continue to feed unless there is some sort of compromise.

One thing both sides agree on is there has to be more education. We encourage people to do their homework.

From what we can see, all information points to a total ban not just in Dysart et al, but across the County.