N.B. nuisance deer program popular with farmers and hunters

by George Fullerton
Participation in New Brunswick’s Nuisance Deer Management Assistance Program is up significantly this year, with the province issuing some 180 permits to kill “nuisance” female deer compared to 115 permits issued in 2016.
According to Joe Kennedy, a deer biologist with the province’s energy and resource development (ERD) department, 51 deer were killed through the program in 2016.
Josée Albert, CEO of the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick (AANB), said the AANB had previously lobbied the provincial government for a program to address deer damage on farms. She said farmers in regions with dense deer populations suffered economic losses from damage to orchards and field crops.
The AANB researched how other jurisdictions dealt with nuisance wildlife and made a proposal based on Ontario’s nuisance wildlife program. The result was a pilot program held during the 2008 and 2009 hunting seasons, with six Keswick-area farmers participating.
The program was reinstated in 2015 and was open to farmers across the province. Twelve farmers in the Keswick, Lower St. John River Valley, and Memramcook areas participated that year.
Registered farmers who’ve had economic losses due to deer damage submit a list of hunters they’ve invited to hunt nuisance deer to their regional ERD office. Permits are for does because their removal has the greatest impact on the population. Each eligible hunter is allowed to kill one doe through the nuisance deer program and one deer using their regular hunting license.
Kennedy said the number of tags issued is based on farmers’ requests and the local deer population.
“Participating farmers are pretty good at estimating the number of nuisance deer they have and how many they would like to see removed,” said Kennedy.
Producers can apply for permits in September and October. They’re only valid for the regular hunting season. Successful hunters must register the deer at the ERD office.
David Coburn, who owns a 260-acre mixed farm with his family just north of Fredericton in Keswick Ridge, participated in the nuisance deer pilot program in 2008. The farm includes a large apple orchard.
“We were literally being eaten out of house and home,” said Coburn. “We estimated that deer damage was costing us $10,000 per year. We were able to see right through the orchard because the bottom of trees were eaten completely off.”
Coburn said the nuisance deer program is working. As of the last week of this year’s hunting season, hunters had killed 18 deer on his farm using both regular tags and nuisance tags. He said hunters have killed a total of 48 deer on the farm over the past three years.
Coburn said farmers applying for nuisance deer permits should get their applications in early so hunters can begin hunting as soon as the season opens.
He prefers having bow hunters on his property. “It is quiet and the deer are not frightened away by rifle shots,” he said. “The separation distance for bows is shorter than long guns so we can put more active hunters on the ground. With the growing popularity of crossbows, we can see that we may be able to eliminate the use of long guns on our farm at some point in the future.”
Coburn has cultivated a group of hunters who have become regulars on his farm.
“We invite hunters and provide them with written permission to hunt, which allows us to control who hunts where and when,” he said. “Having that information is important for the safety of hunters and our employees. We get to know our hunters fairly well and make sure they understand their job is to take does. Over the past number of years, hunters have been conditioned to take only bucks. We have to change that mindset for the nuisance program. We don’t want them sitting looking at does and waiting for a buck to walk into the picture.”
Andrew Lovell operates River View Orchard also in Keswick Ridge. The operation includes 20 acres of apple trees and 10 acres of strawberries. Lovell embraced the nuisance deer program after deer virtually wiped out five acres of newly planted strawberries.
“The deer came in as the 2014 growing season got underway and fed on the strawberry plants,” he said. “The pressure was so intense that the plants could not put out runners. They destroyed a five-acre field. At $3,000 to $4,000 cost per acre for establishment, it was a significant impact to our operation.”
Lovell said another five-acre strawberry field protected by a deer fence suffered no damage.
Near the end of this year’s hunting season, Lovell said more than half a dozen nuisance deer have been killed on his farm. Because of how close the orchard and fields are to his house, Lovell restricted the nuisance hunt on his farm to bow hunters.
“Overall, it was a positive experience for our family and the hunters,” he said. “A lot of the hunters used crossbows, which are less technical to use compared to compound bows. A good deal of the nuisance deer were brought down by first-time bow hunters, so it was a positive experience for them in particular.”
However, Lovell said deer fencing is a more effective and permanent solution for farmers operating on 60 acres or less.
“The trouble with relying on nuisance tags to control deer is that the remnant deer continue to reproduce and deer migrate into areas where habitat is attractive,” he said. “The deer fence can keep deer out of field crops and orchards, although it is not practical for large cash crop operations.”
In fact, Lovell has added deer fence contracting to his farming operation, and has completed numerous projects throughout southern New Brunswick.
Lovell commended Bill Levesque for supporting the nuisance deer program’s development when Levesque was acting deputy minister of the provincial agriculture department.
“The Ag Alliance had proposed the nuisance program and it was meeting resistance in the department of natural resources,” said Lovell. “Levesque immediately grasped the challenge and economic impact deer damage was causing farmers. He indicated that the program had to be established and worked hard to see it implemented. And it has proven to have a positive impact for farm operations.”