On April 25, Oak Bay Coun. Tara Ney, Eric Zhelka, Tom Croft and Michelle Kirby voted to hold the municipality’s deer management budget for 2016 to $10,000. The Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society applauds this decision as sensible and positive. It takes a prudent approach to spending taxpayer’s money, and it creates an opportunity for good decision-making in the best interests of the community.
Contrary to comments from Mayor Nils Jensen and Coun. Kevin Murdoch that the decision “nixes any deer management for the year” and “means we don’t do anything,” the UWSS believes that Oak Bay can now take the appropriate time to develop a viable, community-supported plan for managing urban deer, as recommended by the province, the CRD and the UWSS. It doesn’t make sense to allocate additional funding until there’s a well-crafted, widely supported plan for its use.
In March, Coun. Zhelka and Ney weren’t able to persuade their council colleagues to apply for $10,000 under a new provincial cost-share program that was established to help communities fund deer management programs within their boundaries – such as the five-point proposal developed by the UWSS over the past year. The opportunity to apply again will likely come this September.
By applying to this provincial program, Oak Bay’s budget for 2016 could be doubled to $20,000 through matching funds. This amount would be more than sufficient to help reduce human-deer conflict and build community consensus on how to more effectively address human-deer interaction in Oak Bay.
Deer management is not synonymous with population reduction. In fact, population reduction is considered by the provincial government as the last resort to reducing human-deer conflict. The province first requires that several steps – including public education and scientific analyses through deer counts – be taken before immuno-contraception, translocation or culling methods are considered.
Experience in other jurisdictions shows that a values-based survey is also strongly recommended to inform any deer management plan. A comprehensive, well-crafted survey should include questions about broad values in the community related to wildlife and the environment, along with information on the the range of management options. It should also provide for data on deer movement and numbers, and where human-deer conflict concerns are most prevalent.
In February, the UWSS suggested such a survey to the mayor and council. The survey has already been developed by scientific experts, independent of the UWSS. We offered to co-ordinate this survey by working with the authors and the municipality. Council rejected our proposal and instead asked municipal staff to provide a “high-level” cost estimate for a contractor to develop and administer a survey. There appears to be no requirement that this company have expertise in urban wildlife management issues. And there’s no assurance that residents will be provided with the full range of deer management options with which to make an informed decision.
The mayor and some members of council have voiced concern that the UWSS is “anti-cull” and therefore biased. Here’s why the UWSS won’t support a cull – science and experience in other jurisdictions repeatedly show that lethal culls don’t work in the long run. Moreover, they are inhumane, divisive and fiscally irresponsible. The UWSS advocates for science-based decision-making and effective, sustainable and humane solutions. We’re confident that residents, once provided with the full information on available management options, will agree.
Council has yet to decide how best to spend the $10,000 currently set aside for deer management. The UWSS remains hopeful that the mayor and council can find a path forward to work with – not against – the community they represent on this important public policy issue. As a citizen-based organization, the UWSS stands ready to work co-operatively with Oak Bay municipality and demonstrate that in the 21st century it is possible to co-exist with, not destroy, an integral part of our natural environment that is the envy of visitors from around the world.
Bryan Gates, president
Kristy Kilpatrick, vice-president