Monday, July 19, 2010

Deer in the Gulf Islands

Due to a long history of isolation along the Pacific Slope, the blacktail has differentiated
from Mule Deer to the extent that it has been called “a species in the making”.
In Mule and Black-tailed Deer in British Columbia, 2000.

This spring the provincial Ministry of Environment released “British Columbia Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis” for municipalities because of a rise in human-deer conflicts in BC. The deer population has been increasing in many BC residential areas, causing damage to gardens, vehicle accidents, aggressive behaviour and serving as potential vectors for disease to livestock and people. One scooter rider was knocked off his ride by a deer last year on Salt Spring. Deer can be a challenge to manage, because their biology makes them very adaptable to suburban situations. There is the social aspect also, especially for the Bambi generation who may not want to see lethal controls take place. The goal of the study was to find ways that communities can be involved in the decisions to reduce conflict to a manageable level.
How do we determine if we have too many deer? It's not enough to say we need to maintain a number that doesn't exceed the carrying capacity of the land. If we are talking about the biological carrying capacity, that would be the number that can maintain good health. That number may exceed the ecological carrying capacity, which would be the number that doesn't cause permanent damage to the ecology of the island. It's important to remember that deer are a vital part of the ecology, and there is some evidence that deer are important to the Garry Oak ecosystem, yet too many can damage it and the replenishment of Arbutus. The number which is in balance for the ecosystem, may still exceed the cultural carrying capacity, which is the number that humans can co-exist with. Even then, the number for “wildlife acceptance” may differ for farmers, or gardeners, or tourists and seasonal residents. For myself, in the rural part of the island where I live, I don't think we have too many deer. Someone down the road may have a different opinion. It is for that reason that the government report included a template of a survey that can be used by local governments to determine how the community is impacted and what type of management they would prefer.
To long-time rural residents of the Gulf Islands, for many years the Black -tailed deer that call our islands home have been easily controlled by hunting in the fall, a ritual that would fill the freezer for the winter, and keep the ones who come within the home boundaries in check. A lack of predators and a favourable habitat have allowed deer populations to rise, making the management of deer numbers through hunting acceptable to most. Deer who kept their distance, stayed away from the garden, and seemingly minded their own business, were spared. It made much more sense to sell domestic livestock for much needed cash, and use the plentiful deer to provide venison for home consumption. After all, man has a long history of hunting and gathering and both were regular activities in days past. Even now, some people still have a regular cycle of hunting and gathering in the fall, whether it be for deer, geese, oysters or mushrooms.
Regulations restrict when and where people can discharge firearms in the Gulf Islands, and laws may differ from island to island. For example, Mayne Island does not allow for the hunting or the discharge of firearms, except that permits may be issued to farmers who are shooting the fallow deer that are there. Sidney Island has a large non-native European fallow deer population which were introduced early in the last century. There was a major cull of over 800 animals two years ago, enlisting the help of the community who built a corral for them, and a mobile abattoir that came to the island to process them. The venison from the healthy deer was sold to restaurants in Vancouver, but there were many deer who were thin or in poor health and had to be disposed of. Their numbers had swelled into the thousands and they threatened the ecosystem and their own health. For 28 years, 11,000 deer on Sidney Island alone were hunted or removed to deer farms.
For subdivisions such as Magic Lake Estates on Pender Island, it is a different situation altogether. No guns may be discharged there at all, and to many, especially those who are visitors or seasonal residents, the deer are encouraged to visit through feeding. As a result, deer will congregate where treats are offered, just like children. This results in reduced health for the deer, and increased conflict with the community.
Reducing conflict through fencing, or the use of landscape plants that deer don't like, are good ways to live peacefully with our deer. The local lumberyard on Pender has offered a good selection of plants for many years. Allowing hunting and the discharge of firearms is also an important component to control of the deer population in rural areas since we lack large predators on most of the Gulf Islands. Public education to discourage feeding of deer is especially important, perhaps followed by bylaws prohibiting that practice. More ideas to consider are in the report.
The Ministry of Environment report “BC Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis” is available online at

1 comment:

  1. I took ONE last year. Hopefully a lot more this year