As a veteran municipal councillor who served nine years in two different communities, I’ve never seen such a divisive community issue as urban deer management in Oak Bay. The topic continues to generate an unprecedented volume of letters to the editor and ongoing media coverage.
I was on Oak Bay council when the Capital Regional District’s Deer Management Strategy was adopted in 2013. While I voted to support a pilot project, I was the only councillor who voted for an option that would have provided Oak Bay council more local control over the pilot together with ongoing public consultation and systematic assessment of results as each stage of the strategy was completed. In my experience, as a pilot program unfolds, good management requires making adjustments based on changing conditions, new information and impact.
Even Oak Bay residents who support a deer cull have recently expressed concern and embarrassment to me about how our municipality’s reputation is being portrayed. Media and politics continue to overshadow what should have been a well-planned and managed public process, supported by science, evidence and community consultation. Instead, our residents have largely been educated through the press and outside organizations.
During the municipal election last fall, I suggested taking the time to evaluate the pilot for its effectiveness and efficacy and forming a strategic partnership with Victoria and Saanich, neighbouring communities with their own populations of urban deer. I argued that culling 25 deer inside Oak Bay borders alone would not be effective, from either a cost or animal control perspective.
I asked for an accurate deer count for Oak Bay, research on migratory patterns from Saanich, and a reduction of speed limits on Cadboro Bay and Cedar Hill X Roads where there are the highest deer/vehicle conflicts according to CRD and ICBC accident statistics. I called for proper signage on these major traffic corridors, consistent with provincial Ministry of Transportation standards, i.e. large yellow flashing signs clearly warning of the deer hazard in and around Uplands Golf Course and on other major roads. Such key elements of the deer management strategy appear to be still missing from Oak Bay’s pilot program.
We have recently learned that even though a request for proposal has been issued, and a culling contractor has to be “trained,” there are actually viable humane options now available for controlling urban deer. Equally concerning is that it is questionable that the CRD and Oak Bay have the staffing capacity to adequately manage or evaluate a deer cull pilot in an urban, compact community such as Oak Bay. How are property owners and residents kept informed while the cull is underway, how are traps monitored and what are the benchmarks to make sure that the cull is humane and effective?
Oak Bay appears to be the petrie dish for an urban deer cull, the first undertaken in Canada. Will our municipal staff, council and the CRD be prepared to manage issues arising during and after the cull and will our taxpayers know exactly what the direct and indirect costs are of this cull and any planned for the future? And why isn’t the immunocontraceptive alternative being given serious consideration? Until these questions are fully explored and answered, Oak Bay and the CRD have not completed the due diligence that is absolutely necessary before a cull takes place.