Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:08

Unique program keeps Waterton townsite safe

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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Chris Jobe and her dogs were hard at work once again this year. Last year they were very successful in keeping the numbers of mule deer out of the Waterton townsite. Chris Jobe and her dogs were hard at work once again this year. Last year they were very successful in keeping the numbers of mule deer out of the Waterton townsite. Photo submitted by Nick Alexander/Parks Canada

Through the months of May and June, three employees of Waterton Lakes National Park were on the look out for mule deer and worked on changing the deers’ behaviour within the townsite.


The catch is the three employees were border collies hired on a three-year trial to help eliminate the conflict between the mule deer and people in the townsite.
The dogs started last June and Janice Smith, in charge of external relations at Waterton, says it was a successful initiative to shepherding the deer from the townsite.
“Dogs have been used very successfully for over 10 years in Banff to help deal with aggressive elk and elk calving in a townsite situation, so we decided to adapt that to our situation,” says Smith.
“Chris Jobe and her dogs didn’t have prior experience with deer, but they are well-trained and their work with sheep has transferred well to deer,” adds Smith.
The reason the park wants the mule deer out of the townsite in June and July is because over a few years the deer have been more and more aggressive towards people during the spring fawning season. The Park needs to be a safe environment for people so Waterton is trying something new that seems to be working quite well.
“In addition, to direct threats to safety posed by aggressive deer, the high number of deer is also attracting carnivores, such as cougars and bears, into the community. This creates both a public safety hazard and also affects our protection of park wildlife,” says Smith.
She adds Waterton doesn’t want to completely eliminate deer from the townsite. However, park officials are trying to change the deers' behaviour and make them re-learn how to act around dogs and people.
“This is a trial to determine if trained dogs can assist Parks Canada in our effort to reduce the human-wildlife conflicts associated with aggressive deer in the community,” says Smith. “The hope is that dogs can successfully be used to move deer out of the community in the spring fawning season, thereby reducing the potential for conflict.”
The dogs go out quite early in the morning and then out again in the evening.  Smith says Jobe and other handlers wear yellow safety vests in which have Parks Canada and “Wildlife” on the vests. The dogs aren’t on a leash and gently haze the deer out of the community after commands from their handler.
“The trainer and the dogs were very popular with the community and visitors. They are a highly-trained team, very obedient and focused on their task, but also very friendly dogs,” says Smith.

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