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Upper Mission residents sign petition in favour of deer population control

Frank Bechard and his neighbours are putting a petition forward to the City of Kelowna, requesting a deer management program.

The main concern is around the growing deer population moving closer to the city and damaging people's backyards.

Frank Bechard and his wife have lived in the Upper Mission since 1981. He helped pass the petition around, which resulted in more than 1000 signatures in favour of a deer management program.

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"The deer population is out of control up here, like it is in a lot of areas," said Bechard. "We never had deer problems until four or five years ago when they started to show up in our neighbourhood and they just multiply like rabbits every year."

The petition urges the City of Kelowna to take action- whether it's a cull or some sort of population control program.

A conservation officer is also frustrated with the City of Kelowna's lack of action. Ken Owens, conservation officer for the North Okanagan zone, said the province is ready and willing to work with the City of Kelowna on a deer management program but hasn't received a response.

"With the City of Kelowna, there's just no forethought, moving forward on that stuff and we've got a population that's growing very strong and fast, and deer are just driven by their biology so if they can access that food source, they will," said Owen.

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Bechard said the deer aren't picky with what plant species they eat in his backyard, or in his wife's garden, which was destroyed over the winter.

"They're destroying everything," said Bechard. "We live on steep lots and we have retaining walls and they talk about putting fences, but there's restrictions on how high a fence can be in Kelowna. It's not high enough because these deer can jump a six-foot fence with no problem at all - even the little ones. So they're in our backyard."

The 2003 Okanagan Mountain fire has been a topic of discussion, leaving people wondering if the fire was played a role in the urbanization of deer in Kelowna. Bechard and Owen, as well as Blair Stewart with the City of Kelowna all weigh in on the subject.

"It's particularly bad here because of the fires. Our houses burned in the fires in 2003 and as well as another neighbourhood up in this area," said Bechard.

"That Okanagan Mountain Fire in 2003 has created some really good deer habitat and brought them into our city," said Conservation Officer Owen.

"My interpretation is that a fire and a burn actually creates more habitat. So it really depends on who you ask, but I don't think that plays a factor in why they're here. I think it's more than that," said Blair Stewart, parks services manager for the City of Kelowna.

Stewart said the City is keeping a close eye on the deer population and besides a few damaged landscapes, they haven't really seen much reason to take concern.

"Currently we don't believe we have as big of a problem as those other communities do and that's why they've had to do the reactions they have," said Stewart.

Other municipalities in B.C. have implemented a deer management program, including the Kootenays, Cranbrook, Oak Bay and other parts of the province.

While it's a contentious issue, some say that culling is the only way.

Owen said he's seen success in the deer management program in many municipalities across B.C.

"There's some controversial decisions that have to made at times," said Owen. "It makes me a little mad because there's so much long-term solution stuff that needs to be done - you just can't come in and kill deer and not change behaviour because those deer will be replaced by other deer."

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Bechard of Upper Mission believes the City is in denial suggesting that no one wants to address the issue.

"Once the City admits that we have a problem and asks for help, then the province will get involved. They've done it in other areas," said Bechard.

Stewart said the City of Kelowna is currently researching which programs have seen success.

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"We're not saying it's not successful, I'm just saying it's had limited success...I believe a few communities have been given the right to remove 100 and they've only been able to get 20 some odd. It's not as easy as people would think and it's a tough subject to tackle for sure," said Stewart.

The petition is expected to reach the city over the next couple of days. From there, Bechard hopes the city will review it and respond.

"We would have to take our time to consider what's being asked and what we feel is necessary and probably speak to some professionals to try to deal with what's going to happen after that," said Stewart.

KelownaNow put in a request to speak with a provincial wildlife biologist, but no one was available to comment.

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