Recovery Protocol for Escaped or Released Farmed Deer and Elk

The original protocol was developed in 1999 by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and the Ontario Deer and Elk Farmers Association (ODEFA), in consultation with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The cervid farming sector has changed significantly since 2003 and ODEFA is no longer an active association. The current protocol was updated by OMAFRA and MNR staff to ensure administrative accuracy; no policy changes were made.

Background

Statistics Canada's 2006 Census of Agriculture ("Alternative Livestock on Canadian Farms") reported there were 158 and 80 farmed deer and elk operations respectively in Ontario, which kept 8,031 deer and 3,550 elk. It should be stressed that not all of these operations are farms. A substantial number of non-farm operations such as zoos, animal exhibits, parks, petting zoos and private animal collectors, also keep deer and elk. This protocol is intended to apply only to farmed deer and elk. Farmed deer and elk are defined as animals which are being kept in captivity in Ontario for the purpose of commercial propagation or the commercial production of meat, hides, pelts, antler products or other products.

Cervids currently farmed in Ontario include elk, red deer, elk-red deer hybrids, white-tailed deer, fallow deer, sika deer, reindeer and mule deer. It is in the farmer's best interest to ensure the deer and elk, representing his/her investment, remain on the farm premises. In addition, the escaped or released animals may pose risks to public safety, private or public property, other livestock, the animal's well-being and native wildlife. The focus of this protocol is to protect native wildlife. It is recognized that even with the best management, fencing and handling facilities, there is the risk of deer and elk escaping from the farm premises. There have been some incidents where farmed deer and elk have escaped or been released; some of these escaped or released animals have never been recovered.

For purposes of this document, the term "escape" refers to an accidental or unintentional escape (e.g. - a natural disaster, a gate accidentally not locked, …); while the term "release" implies an unauthorized release (e.g. an act of vandalism). Regardless of the nature of the escape or release, the farmer should have a pre-planned recovery strategy in place, including knowing his/her responsibilities. This protocol will provide deer and elk farmers, facing an unexpected escape or release incident, with a summary of actions and reporting responsibilities. Producers, farm employees, processing plant and livestock auction personnel should have the protocol readily accessible (i.e. - posted near phones, in the glove compartment of vehicles used for transporting deer and elk).

Deer and Elk Owner's Responsibilities and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (FWCA) was proclaimed on January 1st, 1997 and replaced the Game and Fish Act. The Act is administered by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). Farmed deer and elk are exempt from most of the provisions of the Act and regulations; however, the Act does contain provisions that necessitate the recovery of escaped or released deer and elk from farms, as well as non-farm operations.

The deer and elk owner's legal responsibilities and issues under the Act include:

  • ensuring deer and elk are not released or allowed to escape;
  • in the event of an escape or unauthorized release, immediately notifying (i.e. normally within 24 hours) the local MNR district or area office. To find your local MNR district or area office, please call 1-800-667-1940 or refer to the following link: http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/ContactUs/2ColumnSubPage/STEL02_179002.html
  • recovering or killing the escaped animal as soon as practicable. The time frame for resolving the incident will vary from incident to incident depending on the potential risks posed to native wildlife. Appendix 1 - Process For Determining Risk Posed By Escaped or Released Cervids and Appropriate Action, outlines a process for evaluating all potential factors (genetic concerns, habitat competition, feral populations, disease…) to determine the overall risk category (High, Medium or Low) and the appropriate actions required;

If the owner is unable to capture or kill the escaped/released animals within a reasonable time frame, the Minister of Natural Resources has the authority to capture or kill the escaped/released animals without incurring any liability. The owner could be liable for all expenses incurred by the Minister, unless the escape or release was caused by a natural disaster or act of vandalism.

Recommended Actions and Reporting Responsibilities

The following actions should be implemented upon discovering an escape or release:

Deer and Elk Farmer Responsibilities

  • quickly assess the situation and if the incident is believed to be a public safety concern (i.e. - deer/elk on or near a major highway) the police should be notified immediately;
  • secure the remaining animals - preferably in an interior paddock, so exterior paddocks can be used to draw escaped or released animals back;
  • deal with any injured animals;
  • attempt to draw escaped or released animals back into paddocks;
  • report the incident to the local MNR district or area office;
  • formulate a recovery plan for animals that have yet to be recovered. The plan and its implementation speed should reflect the risk category as outlined in Appendix 1. Consider some of the suggested actions outlined in OMAFRA's "draft Best Management Practices to Recover Escaped or Released Deer and Elk";
  • if all the deer/elk are recovered immediately (i.e. within 24 hours) after the escape or release, there is no need to meet the documentation requirements outlined in this protocol unless otherwise instructed by the MNR;
  • the farmer should fax a completed "Form A - Preliminary Report for Escaped or Released Deer or Elk" (MNR Form FW4015). If the farmer does not have access to a fax or does not have time to complete the Preliminary Report within the 24 hour time frame, he/she should provide the details contained on the Preliminary Report to MNR via telephone. Form A is the only document that is required to be submitted within the first 24 hours.

The farmer should develop a working relationship with their local MNR district or area office so they can jointly assess and review the preliminary recovery approach (included in Form A), progress made and potential actions to be implemented, based on risk to native wildlife, as outlined in Appendix 1. OMAFRA and CFIA may also be involved.

The farmer will provide additional information to the District MNR staff by means of Form B - "Recovery Plan Progress Report of Escaped or Released Deer or Elk (MNR Form FW4016) and Form C - "Inventory Report for Escaped or Released Deer or Elk" (MNR Form FW4017). The time frame for submitting Forms B and C will be based on risk analysis measures in Appendix 1.

All personal information contained in Form A, B and C is collected by MNR, under the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, sections 46 and 54. The personal information will be used to assist in implementation of the recovery protocol, to monitor progress in the recovery of escaped animals and to compile an annual report on escaped or released farmed deer or elk. This information will be shared with OMAFRA and CFIA. A generic report summarizing escape/release incidents will be compiled and distributed to other interest groups, on an as requested basis. The generic report will contain summary information on the number of incidents, numbers of animals and species involved, general locations, and recovery results. It will not, however, disclose details of specific incidents nor personal information, thus maintaining confidentiality as required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The annual report will differentiate between incidents involving farmed and non-farmed deer/elk.

Depending on the circumstances, it may also be advisable for the owner of the escaped deer and elk to contact the following:

  • police - where serious traffic & public safety concerns exist, especially for in-transit escapes;
  • farm veterinarian - in event of injured animals or possible need for tranquilizers;
  • Ministry of Transportation, local township, municipality or district - in event of traffic concerns - blue pages of telephone book;
  • Ontario Farm Animal Council - Telephone # 519-837-1326 - in the event of an unauthorized release;
  • neighbours - especially other deer/elk farmers;
  • insurance agent

MNR and OMAFRA Responsibilities

  • all escapes or releases should be reported to the local MNR district or area office with jurisdiction for the location where the escape or release occurred. The local MNR district or area office request the involvement of the following people where warranted:
  1. MNR Wildlife in Captivity Specialist, Wildlife Section, Peterborough - 705-755-1999 or Fax 705-755-1957
  2. OMAFRA Alternative Livestock Specialist - Elora 519-846-3400 or 519-846-0941 or Fax 519-846-8178.
  3. CFIA Animal Health District Office for the location where the escape or release occurred.
  • MNR District staff should develop a working relationship with the farmer. The farmer will provide additional information to the District MNR staff by means of Form B - "Recovery Plan Progress Report of Escaped or Released Farmed Deer or Elk" (MNR Form FW4016) and Form C - "Inventory Report for Escaped or Released Farmed Deer or Elk" (MNR Form FW4017). The farmer and District MNR staff should jointly assess and review the preliminary recovery approach (included in Form A, MNR Form FW4015), progress made and potential actions to be implemented, based on risk to wildlife, as outlined in Appendix 1.
  • MNR is ultimately responsible for assessing risk and approving recovery timelines and plans, but OMAFRA and CFIA may be consulted in making the decisions.

MNR Wildlife in Captivity Specialist Responsibilities

  • compile an annual report on escaped or released farmed deer or elk and distribute to OMAFRA, CFIA and other MNR staff;
  • compile and distribute a "generic report" summarizing escape/release incidents to other interest groups, on an as requested basis. The report will contain summary information on the number of incidents, numbers of animals and species involved, general locations, and recovery results. It will not however, disclose details of specific incidents nor personal information thus maintaining confidentiality as required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The annual report will differentiate between incidents involving farmed and non-farmed deer/elk.
  • coordinate annual discussion between these parties to evaluate the effectiveness and/or need for the protocol.
  • liaise with/provide advice to district MNR staff re: risk analysis, time frames etc.

Appendix 1 - Process for Determining Risk Posed By Escaped or Released Cervids and Appropriate Action

Wildlife conservation is the paramount concern of this paper. The paper focuses on the analysis of risk that escaped or released cervids pose for native wildlife. However, the following factors must also be given serious consideration in situations where an escape or release of farmed cervids has occurred:

Public safety is a serious concern. If escaped or released animals are posing or may pose an immediate issue related to public safety (e.g. - animals near or on a major highway), then priority should be given to immediately contacting the local police and working with them to resolve the issue. MNR and other agencies should also be contacted as soon as possible as per this protocol.

Another very important factor that needs immediate consideration is the possible impacts that escaped or released animals may have on nearby farming operations. There should be a high degree of concern if the escaped or released animals come from a restricted (untested) or suspect herd under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Cervid Movement Policy (which falls under the umbrella of both the National Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) Eradication Program and the National Brucellosis Eradication Program), especially if there is any risk that the animals will come in contact with livestock or other deer or elk farming operations. There may also be concerns relative to the impacts that escaped animals may have on specialty crops. It is highly recommended that where there are such agricultural concerns, the owner of the escaped or released animals should immediately contact the owners of nearby agricultural operations.

  1. Biological and Ecological Wildlife Concerns
Factor
Species of Cervid
Risk

Elk Management Restoration Area

(for areas contact the Wildlife Policy Advisor - large mammals, Wildlife Policy Section 705-755-1964)

Sika Deer, Red Deer, Elk/Red Deer Hybrids or Elk (without documentation verifying that animals are purebred

Elk (if documentation provided verifying that animals are purebred)

High

 

Low to Moderate

Near a Significant Deer Yard (habitat competition)

All Species

Low to Moderate (during fall and winter periods depending on number of animals escaped/released and size of deer yard)

Genetic Concerns (e.g., breeding with white-tailed deer)

Mule Deer

Other Species

Red Deer or Elk/Red Deer Hybrids

High

Low

High - prior to or during rut season

Moderate - after rut season

Concerns Relative to the Establishment of Feral Populations

All Species

Low (in short term; it will take time for feral populations to become established)

 

  1. CFIA Reportable Disease (Tuberculosis & Brucellosis) Concerns to Native Wildlife
Factor
Species of Cervid
Risk

Herd Untested (restricted status)

 

All Species

High (especially urgent in winter deer yard situations and elk restoration areas)

Restricted Herd (being tested for first time) - one or more animals test suspect

 

All Species

High (especially urgent in winter deer yard situations and elk management areas)

Herd Tested - one or more animals test suspect from a previously negative status herd

All Species

Low to Moderate

Herd Tested - Negative status (within last 5 years)

All Species

Low

Other Disease and Parasite Concerns

All Species

Low to High depending on specific circumstances

 

  1. Other Factors to Consider
Factor
Species of Cervid
Risk

Degree of Farmer Cooperation/Effort

All Species

Risk can increase with lack of farmer cooperation or effort

Release/Escape During Transit or at Abattoir

All Species

High

Released/Escaped Herd Size and Distribution

 

All Species

The larger the herd and more broken up the greater the risk

Time Elapsed Since

Release or Escape

All Species

Increased risk as time elapses

Landscape Type (Southern Agricultural Vs Northern Forests - Topography, Geography, Land Cover)

All Species

Greater risk when escape is adjacent to cover/corridors Vs open agricultural land

Season and Time of Year

 

Whitetailed Deer, Elk, Red Deer or Hybrids in Elk Management Areas, Mule Deer

Greater concern before or during rutting season depending on species, sex and location

 

Process for Considering Risk Factors

MNR will have lead in evaluating/interfacing with the owner regarding wildlife concerns. Any sanction or action taken as a result of wildlife concerns may be taken under the FWCA or other mechanism.

All factors will be evaluated in determining risk category and appropriate action; the fact which ranks the highest will determine the overall risk category for the escape/ release event.

Regardless of the risk category, all escaped animals must be removed within a period of 9 months unless otherwise authorized by MNR.

Risk Categories and Appropriate Action

Degree of Risk Risk Description Appropriate Measures
Risk 1 Immediate and Urgent - usually one or more "High Risk" criteria
  • effective and immediate action required
  • action needs to be implemented within 24 hours and generally problem should be resolved within a few days
Risk 2 Moderate
  • monitor closely and regularly
  • generally problem should be resolved within 3 to 8 weeks
Risk 3 Low
  • monitor at least biweekly
  • time until resolution can be several months depending on circumstances
  • maximum period of 9 months

 

Appendix 2 - Canadian Food Inspection Agency Local Animal Health District Offices - Ontario Area

Location
Telephone
Ontario Area
519-837-9400
 
Central Region
Guelph
519-837-5817
Hamilton
905-572-2201
Niagara Falls
905-937-7434
 
South West Region
London
519-691-1300
Mitchell
519-348-0433
Sarnia
519-332-3031
Windsor
519-969-2522
Woodstock
519-539-8505
 
North East Region
Barrie
705-739-0008
Belleville
613-969-3320
Brockville
613-342-3682
Kingston
613-384-1230
Markham
905-513-2850
Ottawa
613-274-7374
Owen Sound
519-376-9772
Peterborough
705-742-6917
Port Perry
905-985-1870
Walkerton
519-881-2431

For a list of all CFIA Area and Regional Offices please go to http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/directory/offbure.shtml

CFIA National Headquarters1400 Merivale Road

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0Y9

Tel: 1-800-442-2342 / 613-225-2342

TTY: 1-800-465-7735

Fax: 613-228-6601


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Brian Tapscott - Alternate Livestock Specialist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: November 1999
Last Reviewed: 22 January 2016