Dealing with Deer
One of your goals in establishing or restoring Garry oak habitat may be to attract native wildlife. For example, you may have chosen particular native plants to provide food and water for birds and butterflies — and find you have created some tasty treats for deer as well.
Some people enjoy the deer, and welcome their presence. Others want to discourage them. Deer can do a great deal of damage, especially to young and tender plants. Well-established plants will often re-grow the parts that have been eaten, leaving little long-term impact.
While it may be easy to justify exluding exotic animals such as rabbits or grey squirrels from your restoration site, exluding native deer may seem to go against what would be considered “natural” for Garry oak and associated ecosystems.
However, in urban areas where predators have been removed, hunting is banned, and food sources are abundant, deer populations often far exceed natural levels. In this case, it may be advisable to exclude deer. This is especially recommended if you have planted greenhouse-grown plants that may not have had the opportunity to adapt to pressure from herbivores.
If you decide deer control methods are necessary, here are some ideas to try:
- Fencing — You may decide to fence the area you’re working with. Check your local bylaws first. If possible, fencing should be at least 3 m (10′) high and set at least 30 cm (1′) below the ground. Openings should be less than 10 cm (4″). Durable, black plastic fencing can be installed with minimal impact to vegetation and can be virtually unnoticeable if seen from a distance. Visit the restoration project at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site or the University of Victoria’s Quercus Project to see this kind of fencing.
- Netting — Individual trees and shrubs can be covered with stiff plastic netting. This helps to reduce browsing but does not eliminate it.
- Repellent plants — Some plants, such as catnip, garlic, lavender and yarrow, are reputed to repel deer.
- Resistant plants — Many plant species, such as Oregon grape and kinnikinnick, are more deer resistant than others. Ask your local nursery for suggestions of appropriate species for your area. Many native plants are more tolerant of browsing than exotic species.
- Scare tactics — Strobe lights, motion detector lights, radios, pulsing sprinklers, aluminum pie pans and other deterrents can startle deer, especially when they first appear. The presence of dogs is also helpful.
- Odour and taste repellents — There are several commercially available products which may help to repel deer, and many people have homemade recipes for repellents.
Another option is to grow plants that deer prefer to eat and hope that they leave your other plants alone. For example, many deer enjoy red osier dogwood, which is a native plant that’s easy to grow.