Christine van Reeuwyk
Oak Bay News
To manage or not to manage deer – that is the question expected to be up for discussion by Oak Bay council during its Feb. 15 committee meeting.
The topic arose as staff offered a final report on the CRD pilot project to manage deer in the region. The staff report outlined the course Oak Bay took, from education to cull and the final deer count numbers in the fall.
That CRD count showed a deer for every two kilometres of street, which Coun. Tom Croft pointed out was a bit of an awkward analogy, asking how many “kilometres” are in Oak Bay?
Staff pointed out that was the way the count information was interpreted and presented by the Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operation. It also stated the high count was 55 deer, with 14 of those at Victoria Golf Club, and all in good condition.
The question quickly became: “Do we want to proceed with deer management?” posed by Mayor Nils Jensen early in the hour-long discussion.
Coun. Michelle Kirby suggested no – noting the CRD has no current plans to put time and money into a management strategy. While participating in the regional pilot project showed leadership, “it’s a whole other thing to go it alone,” she said.
“We have a lot on our plate and we have a strategic plan that needs time and energy of our staff. I don’t see this is our responsibility,” Kirby said, adding deer are the responsibility of the province. “If we keep taking this on … they’re just going to let us do it.”
Deer are in the purview of the province, agreed Coun. Tara Ney. “But I do read from our community they do want a deer management program,” she said, suggesting at minimum an educational campaign. “We could ramp up now with providing education and support.”
When staff were asked about the number of deer-related complaints – not well documented by the municipality as phone calls come in to various departments, from parks to the CAO’s office – most were related to personal safety, said Helen Koning chief administrative officer.
Anecdotally, for example, callers were afraid of the deer themselves while others voiced fear of spooking deer into traffic and concern over pet safety.
Ney, adamant Oak Bay shouldn’t engage in another cull, called it too divisive and exhausting for the community and district staff.
She and Coun. Eric Zhelka voiced support for a hard look at another agenda item, an Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society submission outlining its proposed immuno-contraception project for Oak Bay.
Ney called the pilot a “thoughtful and well-researched” option that wasn’t an available to Oak Bay council previously. “It appears we’re on the brink of that being an option,” she said.
Zhelka agreed, pointing to an available provincial grant. The province announced last September it would provide up to $100,000 a year to help fund urban deer management projects.
The Ministry of Forests lands and Natural Resource Operations put out its call for proposals to select local governments with a history of urban deer issues.
Oak Bay is among the municipalities offered an opportunity to match provincial funds under the program.
While the deadline was Jan. 8 and sought fully developed projects, the province has indicated that dependent on the uptake, late applications will be considered. The program runs to March 31.
“It would be foolish if we did not at least consider making use of these,” Zhelka said.
Coun. Hazel Braithwaite agreed a conversation needed to be had prior to applying for any grants.
“We do have to have a deer management strategy in place,” Braithwaite said. “We shouldn’t be rushing just to get a grant application in.”
Council agreed to have a discussion during the Feb. 15 committee of the whole meeting with Croft and Kirby opposed.
“We can do practice on the ground work … some sort of animal control,” said Coun. Kevin Murdoch.
“We have to not ignore the reality a large number of people are concerned with deer in our community.”
Council also agreed to add $30,000 to the budget for deer management, with Kirby and Croft opposed.
Coun. Kevin Murdoch made the motion to provide an opportunity for discussion during Estimates (budget) discussions this spring.
“I would just like to have some agreement from council,” Murdoch said, pointing out this council has yet to have a full discussion to develop its philosophy on deer.
“What do we as a council see as our values and decision-making process going forward?”