By Chris Marchand
If there’s been one absurd constant throughout my 19-year career in community newspapering, it has been the issue of urban deer.
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t feel that strongly one way or the other. Yet people do seem to care about this, in numbers that are hard to ignore.
At least once during every city council’s term, about a hundred citizens will gather at a public meeting to suggest ideas like contraceptive salt-licks (best band name ever?), culls or a capture/relocation program while a representative from the MNR will be on hand to tell you why this isn’t their responsibility despite the fact that everybody thinks it should be.
‘Wolves! Wolves on Park Crescent, I tell ya!’ wild-eyed residents will say into the microphone. ‘Will somebody please think of the children!’
It brings to mind that scene from the classic movie Jaws, where the salty old captain Quint interrupts the town meeting to declare he’ll solve the community’s shark problem for $10,000 — promising to deliver ‘the head, the tail, the whole damn thing’.
Oh, to have a Captain Quint of our own.
Then everyone walks away from the meeting (the last one was in 2012) feeling better. Nothing happens of course, but no one really seems to notice, or a winter like 2014-15 comes along and knocks the deer population down, at least the ones who aren’t being fed.
I received a bit of a strange letter last week — which was never published, on account of it being submitted anonymously — which went as far as to blame the city for the deer problem in the first place, then demand the City Manager’s resignation and a public apology from Mayor and Council for a pair of questions asked on the City of Dryden’s recent urban deer survey.
Questions, I may add, that invoked comparisons to the ‘Gestapo’ and ‘Hitler Youth’ by the letter writers. The questions were something to the effect of:
Would you report your neighbour for feeding deer? As well as: Would you be prepared to testify in a court of law in such a case?
Heavyhanded? Draconian? The Night of the Long Knives revisited? That’s one way to look at it.
I happen to think they were pretty good questions. They say a lot about where the city feels it has some tools to act on the issue. Wildlife experts say the intentional and active feeding of wildlife by some residents is a significant part of the problem that the majority agree exists. Feeding deer is contrary to City of Dryden bylaws. Bylaw enforcement is a complaint-driven process. In that sense, gauging the public’s willingness to make and follow through with those complaints is perfectly reasonable as well as a solid measure of how serious people perceive the problem to be. It also sheds light on how useful of a tool a bylaw may be if residents are unwilling to use it.
Over the past decade of wrangling with this urban deer issue, it’s clear that Drydenites care about the issue, what it comes down to is do they care enough about it to warrant some action?