White-Tailed Deer Management Policy

White-tailed deer are an iconic species found throughout most of Ontario. Although deer provide many economic benefits, as well as being significant ecologically, they also pose some key risks, especially for farmers.

The primary human benefit from white-tailed deer comes from the economic benefits they accrue through hunting. According to the 2007 government “Strategy for Preventing and Managing Human-Deer Conflicts in Southwestern Ontario,” because the deer populations have increased significantly since the 1980s when the selective harvest system was brought in, by 2005 approximately 100,000 were harvested. Deer hunting brings in significant revenues to MNRF for licenses and permits, as well as tourism and other associated spending by hunters. The same report estimates that “in 2001, 158,000 deer hunters spent over one million days hunting deer; [and that] deer hunting expenditures exceeded $84 million.”

Selective hunting is not the only reason that deer populations have recovered so significantly. Changes in farming practices that leave more crop residue have left more winter food for deer as well. It is winter conditions that are now most limiting to deer populations, and a severe winter can have a detrimental effect on herds.

However, deer can also be detrimental economically and environmentally. Populations of deer can cause environmental risks such as over grazing on wild plants including threatened species. Recently a herd of deer were culled in Point Pelee National Park in order to protect the rare forest and savannah ecosystem which contains some rare species under protection.

Significant populations can also put motorists at risk. While a chance encounter with a deer on a hike can be exhilarating, an accidental encounter on a roadway can be very dangerous.

Most significant to farmers is the damage that deer can cause to crops. While there are good estimates of the economic benefits of deer, the costs to farmers are not well measured. The mechanisms for farmers to recover costs are also limited.

Considering that the province values deer for their economic and environmental significance, farmers should be appropriately compensated for the crop and property damage they accrue from deer populations. It is insufficient to simply encourage land owners to capitalize on the economic benefits of deer from hunting. The Southern Ontario strategy from 2007 suggests several possible ways to help farmers prevent issues and to compensate them for damage. These include incentives for protective measures through the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) or other incentives, improving crop insurance coverage to include deer damage, or direct compensation. Ideally, more than one of these options will be available to farmers to ensure that they are able to protect their sources of livelihood or that they are appropriately compensated for losses.


Opinions expressed in the CFFO Commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily represent CFFO policy.

Posted by Suzanne Armstrong on May 5, 2017

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  • Bruce Flattery says:

    An interesting article. I am surprised that the costs of damage (from deer, raccoons, or whatever) are still not well measured. That should be easy to remedy. Then your very sensible concluding recommendations would be easier to implement. But I want to invite you, particularly as a Christian farmer, to re-examine your argument that “the primary human benefit” of deer–or of anything living–is economic. The surprise of seeing a deer, or better yet a herd of them, has ranked high among the joys of my now very long life from about the time I could first walk. I suspect I am not alone in this. I agree that “the province” (us) should see that farmers are properly paid for the service of feeding (usually inadvertently) our deer populations and for the collateral damage deer cause by their ignorance of what crops are for and who owns the land. Like kids, deer can be a nuisance, for sure. But that is not the whole story, is it?

  • Gerard Verbeek says:

    I agree we have all crops damaged that border bush land, the first 4-5 rows of corn are usually totally demolished and in wheat they lay in big patches because they blend in with the color. We should be compensated because the province gets money from the licenses and the farmer get nothing as usual.

  • Bernie Solymar says:

    Just wanted to point out that W-T Deer are also a significant ecological problem in southern Ontario. They very efficiently clean out the understory of wooded areas by over-browsing. This, in turn, results in less biodiversity and impacts successional stages of forests. Removal of ephemeral wildflowers (i.e. Trillium) results in less nectar sources for early season pollinators, etc. The raking of the duff layer to get at acorns results in exposed areas where garlic mustard and other invasive species take hold. A perfect example can be seen in Pinery Provincial Park, where sections of woods along one of the trails are fenced to exclude deer. The differences between fenced and unfenced sections are dramatic.
    Of course, the removal of natural predators from the landscape in southern Ontario, and the ready availability of waste corn and other agricultural crop remains (i.e. apple grounders), along with sparse now cover most years, supports growth in deer populations. Ironically, the only natural predator remaining – the coyote – is considered a pest by sheep farmers and others.
    It’s a classical cause and effect with lots of fixes that are not necessarily long-term solutions.

  • Greg Foster says:

    Thank you for addressing this matter of wild life damage, your article mentions white tailed deer I would point out that many crop growing farmers are facing crop damage from numerous other wild life species including but not limited to red winged black birds, Canada geese, crows, bears, raccoons just to mention a few. The various Ont. government agencies give us lip service as to assisting us with these wild animals. The MNR administers the deer removal program, (which I have used in the past and have been turned down more times than I have gotten approval) they MNR state that there has to be proven, visible damage before they will issue a removal permits (these are issued out of established hunting season for the management area where the land is located in) in NO way will they issue a permit based on past wildlife damage to try to prevent future damage, in other words show there is damage in the present year that has all ready occurred and maybe if the MNR representative feels there is ENOUGH damage then possibly a removal permit might be issued. It is not correct that livestock producers are eligible for their livestock kills including bee keepers, but we crop growers can’t get a nickel of compensation for our crop losses and damage. AS a farmer I can’t even cull white tailed deer on my farm to protect my crops or if caught I face imprisonment for not getting all the permits, yet I can’t get them even if I show crop damage if the MNR representative feels there is not enough damage in his/her opinion to warrant the issuing of these permits. Crop ins. coverage is not a viable method of claiming for compensation as firstly crop ins. coverage is on all your acres insured and additionally if you have annual claims due to on going wild life damage your coverage will go down and your premiums will go up. We are large grain crop growers as well as hort. growers, and as you are no doubt aware consumers don’t want to buy a bird pecked cob of sweet corn, or a pumpkin that has deer (kisses) bits all over the shell. We can harvest a percentage of the hard corn/soybean crop if the combine can pick it up we are not happy that we can only harvest a % of the crop but at least we get something, we as hort. growers as per my above example have NOTHING to sell from our crop(s). This is not right, and our farm organizations should be addressing this matter aggressively with our provincial gov ‘t. I would be interested in hearing what the Christian Farmers farm group has done and is prepared to do in the future in regards to this matter.
    Greg Foster
    On behalf of Foster Family Farm
    located in Eastern Ont.

  • Nick Stevens says:

    Thanks Susanne for the article. Although the info is worthwhile, interesting and probably accurate, it leaves me wondering if the article could not have included some other positives about deer. There is no mention of Deer Farming as an alternative livestock farming choice in Ontario. Deer Farming is recognized by the OFA and regulated by MNR and an industry code of approved practises. I have been operating a red deer / elk farm for the past 20 years. I market my animals to the local venison market. I may be a small operation (there are a number of larger ones in Ontario) but I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed when we are ignored and often forgotten…. even by the CFFO.

  • Dan Driedger says:

    Thank you for the article but frankly I did not feel that it did justice to the circumstances that hort farmers face. Thank you Greg Foster for addressing this need in Eastern Ontario. The devastation of wildlife is far more costly than most people imagine. Raccoons destroy corn, melons, squash and pumpkins. Deer destroy orchards, and pumpkins. Chipmunks destroy strawberries, birds destroy any reasonable berry crop. Rodents destroy sweet potatoes. The list goes on. I know the love hate relationship we have with wild life as I seriously considered a career as a wildlife conservation officer. As much as I love to observe the animal life we are seeing our food chain being eroded. The situation is far more serious than most people are even willing to acknowledge.

    Dan Driedger
    Eastern Ontario

  • Nancy Albright says:

    We don’t have many deer problems but anything else (not birds who eat bugs all spring) is met with a good dog and a functional gun. An eagle that was trying to take a kid got a clip that made him wobble in flight and has not returned though we see eagles most other places. I see the problem in Southern Ontario; the same problem in cities that took in too much rural land; the solution will be difficult even the throwing of money at it.

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