Urban Deer Feeding in BC

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This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS200.
Woman Feeding Deer at Kirk Kove. Cloyne and District Historical Society. No known Copyright Restriction, via Flickr, The Commons

Through this wiki page, examinations of possible outcomes of feeding urban deer in Central/Western British Columbia are performed. Possible outcomes include: An increase in deer/related automobile crashes, an increase in poaching, the spread of disease, especially Chronic Wasting Disease, change in deer eating habitats, which may result in unhealthy trends, and ecological effects that result from deer changing a primary food source. In order to make the right choice whether to feed or not to feed urban deer, humans must first be aware that when we either shoo deer away or invite them for a snack, it has a direct impact on the feeding habits these deer have and determine different levels of domestication we influence unto these wild animals.

Odocoileus hemionus (Mule Deer)

By mid-April, deer will be recovering from the winter and starting to move onto their summer ranges. Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

Mule deer are the largest type of deer in BC and weigh on average 70-110 kgs and standing 90-100 cm in height.[1] Mule deer live in both the interior regions and northern regions of BC, but it is said population may reach around 165,000 within the interior regions. [1] Coat colours may range from dark brown in the winter, to a reddish brown in summer seasons. [1] A recognizable distinction of Mule deer are their large ears, which are said to be approximately two-thirds the size of the head[1].

Odocoileus hemionus (Black-tailed Deer)

Black-tailed deer share the same genus and species as Mule deer but vary on a few distinctions. Most notably, they are much smaller and range from 40-90 kg. [1]Their undercoat and tail fur is also much darker than Mule deer[1]. Wildlife BC states that Black-tailed Deer population has fluctuated from 150,000 to 250,000 over the past decade[1].

Odocoileus virginianus (White-Tailed deer)

White-tailed deer fawn. Yerrio darius raolika. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

White-tailed deer are the most widely distributed deer in North America[1]. Due to their incredible ability to adapt, the white tailed deer has made its way into more suburban areas as well as keeping it’s wild habitat[1]. White tailed deer range from 45-100 kg and may stand around 90 cm tall. In summer, white-tailed deer pelage (coat fur) may be reddish brown, while during the winter, a greyish brown to grey is more typical[1]. A distinct trait of White-tailed deer is that when they run away, they tend to stick their tail up and show their snow-white fur[1].

Immediate repercussions of feeding wild deer may be difficult to witness. However, when given insight on scholarly material, such as William Cronon's The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, getting back to the wrong nature [2] one might argue that feeding deer would be progressive in the eyes of a conservationist such as William Cronon. However, before one can fully agree with this, a wide range of aspects must be examined.

Laws and Foundations

The SPCA is a well known foundation that specializes in the support of animals. When thinking of whether to feed, or not to feed deer. I believe it would be not worthy to discuss what the BC SPCA says on their Urban Deer Management pamphlet. "DON'T FEED DEER" [3] is the exact text.

When looking at specific laws, such as the BC Wildlife Act (1996), it states, "A person must not intentionally feed or attempt to feed dangerous wildlife" [4]

Given, deer aren't necessarily "dangerous", and may even be nice to some level, and it is our civic and scholarly duty to ask "Why?" And, in this case, why are there these laws and suggestions prohibiting me from making new animal friends? The question still stands. "Why shouldn't I feed a deer?"

Car Accidents

According to ICBC [5], about 10,000 motor vehicle accidents a year involve an animal, either domestic or wild. And when looking at Curtis, Hedlund & Williams' work (2004), "More than 1.5 million traffic crashes involving deer...occur annually in the United States" [6] It is safe to say that with an increase of deer in urban areas, it is almost certain that traffic problems may arise.


In 2010, CTV news released an article stating the arrest of two poachers in Saanich, BC, and stating that residence of Saanich "Have made five seperate discoveries of dead or mutilated deer and body parts"[7]


Gross & Miller (2001) published a paper that discusses the possible epidemic of Chronic Wasting Disease in Mule Deer. [8]

However, what does this mean for humans? According to CDC’s Emerging infectious diseases academic journal, the death rate ranged from 1.2-0.8 per million people. [9] It is best to note that this study focuses on the Rocky Mountain area within the United States. I personally found it difficult to find disease related to deer in British Columbia. This doesn’t mean that disease isn’t possible, and would potentially increase with a human/deer interaction increase.

Feeding Habits

I would like to acknowledge this section as more of a speculation of possibility resulting from human feeding of urban deer. I would think the majority of human food eaten by deer, isn’t healthy for the deer. Given, I am unsure of exact meals being fed to urban deer, but I wouldn’t imagine that it is food the deer stomach is used to. This change in eating habits may not be in the best interest for the deer. According to wildsafebc.com "Almost all vegetation is available to deer as a food source" [1]. This means that deer have a strong stomach, but since deer are able to eat all kinds of plants, I don't think their stomach is suited for a Mcdonalds diet. I believe to say that a lot of human food isn’t healthy, even for humans, requires no citation. That being said, if any food of that sort reaches deer lips, the human feeding the deer is unintentionally having a directly negative impact on the life of that specific deer. Just because feeding deer may be cute/fun/an engulfment within greater nature, high importance rests on specifically what one is feeding the deer.

Ecological Effects

When thinking of deer’s placement in an ecological standpoint, in British Columbia, whitetail deer “Do not have to face serious competition from other herbivores for food” [10](2000). But what does it entail if deer, primarily white-tailed deer, feeding habits switched to more domestically human? For one, if deer become more integrated, naturally their predators will be more integrated into society. That being said, if deer are more abundant in urban British Columbia, so will be urban wolves, bears, bobcats and coyotes [10]. Since Deer are Primary consumers, (herbivorous) they help to regulate the growth of producers (plants). A change in a primary food source will undoubtedly lead to unknown repercussions among the deer’s previous food source. Since the White-tailed deer have very little interspecial competition for food, it is possible that a movement from plants to human food may result in an ecological change among the deer food change as well as possible cascading effects. Of course, one must consider the range of difference that may take place. For example, there will be many changes compared to few if deer completely live off of human feeding vs feeding being a rare occurrence.

Feeding the deer crackers; taken in Nara. BradBeattie at the English language Wikipedia. GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In order to make the right choice whether to feed or not to feed urban deer, humans must first be aware that when we either shoo deer away or invite them for a snack, it has a direct impact on the feeding habits these deer have and determine different levels of domestication we influence unto these wild animals. Without a clear scope of possible outcomes of our actions. In order to further clarity in this subject, I believe a few research methods should be implicated. One of these methods should be surveys to determine generally how many people do/have fed urban deer in Central/Western British Columbia; another would be to test the effects of various human food on deer stomach and digestive systems; and empirical studies on the shift of ecology when deer begin to switch their primary diet from herbivory to human food need to be done in order to gain a better understanding on the feeding of wild deer in Central/Western British Columbia. In order to explore possible benefits of greater domestication of deer in urban society, studies to determine positive outcomes should also be done. These studies should include trainable possibilities of pet/service usage of deer and what possible incorporation of deer in human life may look like.

  1. https://wildsafebc.com/deer/
  2. Cronon, W. (1996). The trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. Environmental History, (1), 1, 7-28.
  3. http://www.spca.bc.ca/assets/documents/welfare/urban-wildlife/urban-deer-pamphlet.pdf
  4. BC Wildlife Act, Chapter 488.33.1.1, a (1996) http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/consol24/consol24/00_96488_01
  5. http://www.icbc.com/about-icbc/newsroom/Documents/crashes-involving.pdf
  6. Hedlund, J. H. & Curtis, P. D. & Williams, A. F. (2004). Methods to Reduce Traffic Crashes involving Deer: What works and what does not. Traffic Injury Prevention, (5), 2, 122-131 (p.1)
  7. Lindsay, B. (2010) ”.http://bc.ctvnews.ca/hunters-arrested-in-b-c-urban-deer-poaching-case-1.570694
  8. Gross. J. E. & Miller, M. W. (2001). Chronic wasting disease in mule deer: Disease dynamics and control. The Journal of Wildlife Management, (65), 2, 205-215.
  9. Belay, E. D. & Maddox. R. A. & Williams, E. S. & Miller, M. W. & Gambettis, P. & Schonberger, L. B. (2004) Chronic wasting disease and potential transmission to humans. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 10(6), 977-984.
  10. 10.010.1 Blood, D. A. (2000).White-tailed Deer in British Columbia. Ecology, Conservation and Management. British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. http://www.llbc.leg.bc.ca/public/pubdocs/bcdocs/361677/whttail.pdf
source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Urban_Deer_Feeding_in_BC

Post image: By Thanujan24 (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons