LETTER: Immunocontraception the humane solution to Oak Bay’s deer problem

Two recent letters in the Oak Bay News provide a good opportunity to correct misinformation and provide facts to the Oak Bay community about the management of our indigenous deer population.

READ ALSO: LETTER: Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society is misleading Oak Bay on deer contraception

READ ALSO: LETTER: Deer birth control is not long-term planning

Deer birth control is all about effective long-term planning. Culling and translocation have demonstrated time and again that they are not effective in the long term — translocated deer move to the nearest urban centre, creating a problem for those municipalities, while culling can actually result in higher numbers of deer.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay one step closer to deer immunocontraceptive test

READ ALSO: Esquimalt considers birth control for its deer population

Science supports, and experience has demonstrated, that removing large numbers of deer opens a void that is subsequently filled with even more deer — deer outside the cull move in and reproduce at a much higher rate than normal. It’s nature’s built-in survival strategy for many species. In Cranbrook, for example, after four years of culling, the number of deer increased by 36 per cent. Culling is also very expensive financially because it must be repeated annually, and socially. It divides communities and is considered inhumane by animal welfare organizations such as the BC SPCA.

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Immunocontraception (IC), on the other hand, stabilizes and gradually reduces the number of deer, avoiding opening up a vacuum for surrounding deer to fill. IC does not have to occur annually after the first few years, which also represents a substantial cost-savings. It has been used successfully on other animals, particularly wild horses.

The provincial permit provides for the IC of up to 80 does in fall 2019. However, with it now scientifically established that there are no more than between 72 to 128 deer in Oak Bay (97 being the median), it is highly unlikely that there will be 80 does to vaccinate. The number on the permit simply allows room for the field team to treat as many does as they can locate.

It is correct that the preliminary progress report (required by the province) only reflects adult deer, as they are of reproductive age. Due to the high mortality rate of fawns, few of this year’s fawns will survive the winter and reach reproductive age. Because few fawns successfully join the adult population, reducing the number of fawns produced through IC, will reduce the number of adults in subsequent years.

The current research project in Oak Bay is not re-inventing the wheel, it’s breaking new ground. It’s the first extensive study on urban deer of its kind that will provide important new information about urban deer ecology that is critical to effective management of the population.

Lead scientist Dr. Jason Fisher (an independent wildlife ecologist and leading Canadian expert on macroecology), along with other wildlife biologists from the UVic and Camosun College, is working in partnership with the province, Oak Bay Municipality, and the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS). The research will inform urban deer management strategies province-wide.

The Songhees Nation has endorsed immunocontraception as the best way to manage the deer population. In addition, it is well established that the meat of culled deer is not suitable for eating, as the adrenalin produced by fear permeates the animal, causing the meat to be tough and inedible.

Although some gardeners find it frustrating that deer eat an opportunistic variety of plants, others have found cost-effective ways to adapt their gardens. Last spring the UWSS showcased eight colourful gardens that have been adapted to urban wildlife through a variety of strategies. As well, there are a number of fencing options, and the most effective are not necessarily the most expensive or the tallest. Gardening and fencing are areas where knowledge can be shared, and lessons learned from each other.

READ ALSO: Impaled deer prompts call for fencing changes in Oak Bay

It should be noted that the number of deer carcasses collected in Oak Bay over the past five years has remained relatively stable. Not all of these are the result of vehicle-deer collisions, a number are from natural causes and old age. This year, our veterinarian performed autopsies on three deer. None died from trauma. However, speeding drivers put themselves and others at risk of an unnecessary accident, be it with deer, pets or children.

Despite the terms sometimes used to describe interactions with deer, our indigenous black-tailed deer do not attack, but accidents happen, and dogs walked past does may provoke protective behaviour during fawning season. Collisions are generally due to a driver/cyclist and deer not seeing each other and colliding unexpectedly, or drivers treating deer by the roadside as if they were car-conscious adult humans. This is not a deer-specific issue — the same happens between cars, skateboarders, cyclists, pedestrians, and off-leash pets. Even a squirrel or cat darting into the path of a car or cyclist can cause swerving that leads to an accident. By driving at the appropriate speed, scanning ahead for deer, pets or children, adjusting your speed accordingly, and being alert to deer behaviour, most accidents can be avoided.

READ ALSO: Confrontation with deer sends cyclist to hospital in Oak Bay

After the cull of 2015, Oak Bay took time to reflect on the process and outcome, resulting in the determination that the current research and non-lethal pilot project of IC was a better way to address deer management in the context of our community values. Oak Bay has demonstrated leadership in this endeavour, through the partnership with expert wildlife biologists and veterinarians, the province and the UWSS. As well, this non-profit, evidence-based volunteer organization will continue to provide information to the community about how best to co-exist with what turned out to be a much smaller, neighbourhood-specific number of deer in our municipality than some concerns had predicted.

Kristy Kilpatrick

Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society

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