As of Monday, Oak Bay was still awaiting approval from the province for a deer cull slated to start this month.
Last fall, the district applied to the Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resources to cull up to 25 deer captured using modified clover traps. The window to conduct a cull closes Feb. 28.
“The province, at the end of the day, will make that determination,” said Mayor Nils Jensen, of the application. He added the municipality and CRD rely on the experts at the provincial level, particularly provincial wildlife veterinarian Dr. Helen Schwantje.
“She’s the one who will determine whether or not we proceed,” Jensen said. “She sets the criteria for a humane and ethical cull.”
If approved, the Capital Regional District would borrow traps from the province for the Oak Bay pilot project. Those have yet to arrive. Then a contractor would need to be chosen and trained.
“Waiting this out is not an option,” said Jensen, adding the province made it very clear it would only support, and allow, a cull.
Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations has stated it would not authorize the use of tranquilizers to aid in relocation due to the high risk of deer reacting poorly to the tranquilizer. Risks range from no reaction to the deer succumbing to the tranquilizer, causing death. Deer habituated to urban and suburban environments do not fare well when introduced into wild environments.
Residual tranquilizers can impact other animals that consume deer which have been tranquilized.
The decision to cull in a population reduction portion of the CRD regional deer management strategy came after what Jensen called a “robust” consultation process. Though some still consider that process flawed, criticizing the makeup of the citizens advisory group. DeerSafe Victoria maintains it’s not too late to conduct scientific deer counts, track the movements of deer between municipal boundaries, and research non-lethal deer management methods.
Spokesperson Kelly Carson asserts there are better ways to manage the population than “bolt gunning them in the head.”
“This is the lazy way out. I attended all the citizens advisory group meetings and there was no talk of any other …. human deer conflict mitigation, they went straight to the cull,” says Carson. “It’s a mess. It hasn’t been handled properly.”
The organization held a well-attended rally Saturday in front of municipal hall.
“I’m giving (people) a venue to voice their frustration about this method of killing that, we’re all taxpayers and we’re all paying for it,” Carson said of the weekend demonstration. “They’re making us complicit in something we are vehemently against.”
Deer are baited into modified clover traps where the trained contractor would use the trap to constrain the deer and use a bolt gun to kill it. The deer should die quickly while leaving meat uncontaminated and available for consumption. There is an agreement in place, with health authorities and the CRD, for the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations to utilize meat and artifacts from the animals.
Terms of the permit would direct the contractor to set traps at sunset and handle any animals caught by dawn.
“These animals can be in the traps for 10 hours,” Carson said. “One of our witnesses released one … he doesn’t even know if she survived she was so injured.”
Jensen says he also posed that question and learned the less interaction with people the better once an animal is trapped.
“It isn’t just the DeerSafe people who don’t want to see this, we don’t want to do this,” Jensen said, citing the numbers as highlighting increased public safety concerns.
CRD staff, volunteers and the municipal animal control contractor undertook a deer count over the course of several days in June. While not scientific, it was the methodology approved by the provincial wildlife branch and necessary to apply for the permit.
Municipal statistics show there were three documented deer deaths in 2007, none in 2008 and seven in 2009. This year and last saw about 40 deer carcasses removed by Oak Bay public works staff.
A group of municipal leaders are slated to meet in the Lower Mainland on Jan. 12 to discuss the urban and rural deer population concerns in communities such as in Greater Victoria as well as Invermere, Cranbrook and Grand Forks.
“We’re going there to hear what the ministry has to say, and to learn,” Jensen said.
If the CRD embarks on the pilot project this month in Oak Bay, the window legally closes at the end of February.
“I believe out of bravado it’s going to happen, but it’s not too late to change the system in deer management,” Carson said. “If Oak Bay is willing to spend $1,000 a deer to bolt gun them in the head… then they should be willing to do more.”