Everett Peterson, the lead steward of the woodlands surrounding Goward House, says there is an imbalance between the deer population and the natural regenerative capacity of regional urban forests. (Black Press File)

Lead steward for Goward woodlands calls on Saanich for more robust deer strategy

Everett Peterson says it is not enough to merely ‘fix’ deer to manage and cut their numbers

The lead steward of the woodlands surrounding Goward House in the Cadboro Bay neighbourhood says Saanich’s approach towards dealing with local deer needs to be more robust.

Everett Peterson, a retired registered professional forester, said in a letter to Saanich that he supports the intent of the municipality to work with other municipalities to develop and implement a region-wide humane deer management strategy, while questioning its tools.

As proposed, the strategy would draw on what the literature calls the immuno-contraception approach pursued by Oak Bay in working with the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS).

Peterson questions this approach though. “I do not think that the focus should be solely on a fertility-control approach to limit deer populations,” he said. “Instead, I believe that a broader range of remedial measures are needed to more rapidly achieve a deterrent to the increasing density of urban deer populations.”

RELATED: Oak Bay deer contraception program underway

Peterson does not identify what that “broader range of remedial measures” might look like, but urges action.

“There is a sense of urgency because there is now an imbalance between the predator-free, high-density deer population and the natural regenerative capacity of regional urban forests,” he said. “As a retired registered forest professional, and following 15 years of unsatisfactory results at ‘growing the forest canopy’ in part of the 2.4-hectare Saanich-owned Goward woodland [at 2495 Arbutus Road] my opinion is that this imbalance requires municipalities to have available several choices about methods to reduce deer densities, not limited to only approaches based on fertility control.”

Efforts to re-grow the urban forest canopy on the woodlands surrounding Goward House have been unsatisfactory, said Peterson.

“Since canopy renewal began on the Goward lease in 2004, the most visible aesthetic result is creation of a ‘forest’ of 54-inch tall protective wire rings,” he said. “Without protection by wire, there would be no surviving new trees because of seedling and sapling losses to deer browsing and antler-rubbing. I can only speculate about the new forest canopy that could have been achieved to professional forest renewal standards since 2004 had the Goward woodland area not been subjected to high losses from deer.”

Looking beyond Goward woodlands, Peterson predicts that Saanich’s urban forest strategy will remain unfulfilled “because of regeneration losses from presently abundant deer” unless the municipality takes other steps beyond those envisioned.

Worse, Peterson fears that deer will “in effect” become “architects of the future structure of urban forests in Saanich” because of their influence on native vegetation. “This is happening because of deer’s ability to preclude natural regeneration of certain native tree species,” he said. “In Goward woodland, cottonwood and grand fir are the two native species least likely to be part of the district’s future forest canopy because of extreme losses to deer browsing for any new sprouts or seedlings of these species.”


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