Deer management strategies considered, contested

According to an advisory group appointed to find solutions to the capital region’s deer problem, we should increase public education about deer, ease fencing regulations and allow hunters to kill more deer. These were some of the recommendations presented to the Capital Regional District (CRD) Planning Transportation and Protective Services Committee (PT&PSC) on Sept. 5.

The Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) developed these recommendations as part of a regional deer management strategy. This was initiated in response to increasing complaints, especially from farmers, of damage caused by deer. The CAG held 14 meetings between May and August this year.

“There was a lot of pressure to try and get some solutions by the end of the year. There were a lot of discussions about the agricultural areas wanting to be able to have something in place by next growing season, which would be next spring,” says CRD communications manager Andy Orr. 

“I think the biggest concern around deer-human conflict is the growing population of deer that appear to be flourishing in a relatively predator-free environment,” says CAG Chair Jocelyn Skrlac. “They have become habituated to the smorgasbord of edible, easily obtained plants in fields and gardens where they often tend to wreak havoc.”

The report said residents, farmers, First Nations and hunters have noticed a significant increase in deer population over the past 10 years that has resulted in damage to crops, deer-vehicle collisions, public health and safety risks, and other deer-human conflicts. 

Statistics cited by the CRD show an annual increase in deer-vehicle collisions, growing from 35 collisions in 2000 to 103 in 2010. The total number of accidents is significantly higher in Saanich. The B.C. Transportation Ministry also produced a wildlife accident report showing a general increase in deer accidents on Vancouver Island from 1988 to 2007. 

There is no official data on the number of deer in the CRD, but the B.C. Ministry of Environment estimated that in 2011, there were between 45 000 to 65 000 deer on Vancouver Island, out of 99 000 to 155 000 in the entire province. In 2008, the estimate was almost the same. 

Due to the lack of data on the number of deer and the amount of damage caused by deer in the region, the advisory group based their recommendations mostly on citizens’ input, personal experiences of CAG members and advice from an expert group.

In July, two members resigned due to concerns that they were making decisions without scientific data and key stakeholder participation.

Skrlac says, “Given careful assessment, common sense and bolstered by the assistance from experts, we believe [anecdotal information] can be valid input into decision-making.”

The recommendations call for deer hunting in agricultural and rural areas, and the use of sharpshooting in urban areas, methods that local concerned citizen groups like Deer Safe Victoria and Tree Watch Victoria are against.

“To kill our deer, we would need to overturn laws against urban hunting and gun possession in our city, but these laws exist for good reason. They reflect the values of the majority,” says Barbara Julian, who runs the blog for Tree Watch Victoria. “There is a feeling among deer appreciators that the municipalities simply wanted the CAG to rubber-stamp a foregone intention to kill off the local deer population.”

Skrlac says, “The final recommendation to address the need to reduce deer populations was never made lightly; we all had to sleep with that decision … this is a necessary procedure if deer population growth is to be maintained within a manageable level.”

Julian says the region needs more green space for deer shelter.

“This is a land use problem, a zoning issue, not fundamentally a deer issue,” she says. 

The CAG report will now go to the CRD municipalities, provincial and federal governments and First Nations groups, who will assess the feasibility of the recommendations. After discussing with these stakeholders, regional planning staff will report back to PT&PSC this fall.

When or which recommendations will be implemented depends on these groups and how quickly they can respond, says Orr. 

“At least on the agricultural region, there’s some sense of urgency. The other ones may take longer. It’s hard to say before we sit down with them,” he adds. 

According to the B.C. Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis report prepared by the B.C. Conservation Foundation, deer are the biggest ungulate challenge in B.C. Even so, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Magrath, Alta. are the only urban areas in Canada with active ungulate management programs. 

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