Victoria groups still divided on urban deer issue

Today in the Greater Victoria area, deer roam the streets and neighbourhoods, feeding off residents’ gardens and vegetables. There were between 45 000–65 000 deer on Vancouver Island in 2011 according to B.C. Ministry of Environment estimates, out of 99 000–155 000 in the entire province. A controversy has arisen over how the Capital Regional District (CRD) may appropriately deal with the deer. The CRD is currently moving ahead with a deer management plan, implemented in December 2012, that includes public education, fencing and increased bag limits for deer hunting, among other measures. The CRD has been conducting meetings with Peninsula municipal staff and councils over the last two months, and Central Saanich Council has asked its staff to look into the use of sharpshooters and the feasibility of placing bounties on deer.

The deer debate continues amongst Victoria residents.

Valentin Schaefer, a UVic environmental studies professor who studies urban ecology and biodiversity, believes deer behaviour in Victoria has changed. “It looks as if the deer are becoming urban exploiters. Initially, they were urban adaptors,” he said. “It is not only how they adapt to our presence — they actually can exploit our presence and increase their numbers correspondingly.”

Victorians have encroached upon and destroyed many of the deer’s initial habitats, leaving the deer no choice but to adapt to people. Victoria resident Susan Bourjeaurd said, “Our neighbourhood has a lot to offer a deer: lots of food, protection and no predators.”

Strategies for restoring balance may include reintroducing predators, culling or relocating the deer. A deer cull is a divisive topic: some believe it is unnecessary and inhumane, while others see it as the only option.

“We are in essence, by doing a cull, replacing the predators,” said Schaefer, “like the coyotes and the cougars, and taking their role. It will be ongoing.” He says a cull of the deer in the area may not solve the problem; it will just manage the problem for now.

Kelly Carson is involved with DeerSafe Victoria, an organization that tries to save deer and come up with humane ways to deal with them. “Through our own research,” said Carson, “we discovered that every problem with deer has a technologically advanced solution that does not involve killing. Fencing, road deterrents, wildlife corridors, repellents and adverse conditioning called ‘hazing’ with trained dogs, to name a few.”

According to Schaefer, many local nurseries sell deer-deterring flowers. He says fencing gardens and being more cautious on the roads are a few simple options that will prevent further unfriendly encounters.

The CRD’s Regional Deer Management Strategy has noted that public support for a deer cull is “average in the agricultural geography, relatively low in the rural geography and low in the urban geography” of the CRD.

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