Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Loudest Voices Carry Guns and Snares

Temper tantrums and bad behaviour steer wildlife management in British Columbia.

In February 2018 my friend and colleague Jordan Reichert posted my Victoria Animal News story “A One-Man Bounty on Wolves in BC,” to his public page. In that article I revealed a plan by a BC hunter, Steve Isdahl, to cull wolves across our province. Not just a few wolves, but as many as he could incite fellow hunters to kill in all eight M.Us.

Upset that his plan was made public, Steve Isdahl took to social media to say “If you have in any way attacked a person concerned for our wildlife you are about to be humiliated up one end of you and out the other – easily.”

What that meant for the only male “anti” that he could identify was this silly meme.

He had something else in mind for me, and for a fellow female advocate who had written an article in support of changes to wildlife management that was published by the Vancouver Sun. Something more personal, and I’m very sure he hoped, more “threatening” than a meme. This photo arrived in the mail at my home with no return address. My colleague received the same photo at her place of work, also with no return address.

I believe it was expected that I would tuck tail and stay silent when I received that photo. Women, after all, should know their place. So should wolves. Was the lack of a return address meant to confuse me about who sent it? The effusive use of smiley faces on social media carries over into hard copy however. I have no reason to believe my assumption is incorrect.

On August 28, 2018 Isdahl posted to social media that he was going to make “antis” too scared to oppose him.

In a video uploaded to Youtube on July 18, 2018 he called “Predator Explosion” Isdahl advises hunters that cougars, black bears, grizzlies, coyotes, lynx and bobcats are all competition to the game they’re after, stating that they “must take those predators out when you get the chance.”   

British Columbia’s wildlife deserve a management strategy that will include science and conservation that considers trophic cascades and social structures, not the emotional knee-jerk reaction by sport hunters that is currently in place. They deserve a management strategy that will respect predators and prey species for their vital contributions to sensitive environments, and will give them all the space they need to recover their own equilibrium from the toxic bombardment of industry and hunting pressures.

There is more to the story of predator culls in BC than individuals throwing temper tantrums, however. Last month news broke that the provincial government has expanded hunting of bighorn sheep, a species of concern, in the Cariboo at the same time they have contracted a cull of wolves and coyotes in the neighbouring region.

How can citizens make decisions on wildlife populations and take control of them? The Ministries responsible for BC wildlife are still hunter-centric in both policy and operations. Who is responsible for regulations and changes to them, such as extended hunting seasons? It’s difficult to be in doubt that the fox is guarding the henhouse when regulations regarding chasing cougars with hounds for the exercise of dogs is expanded. With the current attitude towards wildlife any hunter with an ax to grind about any predator can set a snare or a leghold trap anywhere – and they are.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Creative Signage Gets Attention on Highway to Sooke

The Ministry of Transportation recently worked with DeerSafe member Dana Livingstone to create an eye-catching sign on Highway 14 to Sooke. The electronic signs are used to warn drivers of seasonal road hazards, and this was one of the most timely messages to convey to the driving public.

Dana Livingstone, an East Sooke resident, has long been concerned about the deer that are regularly hit on the highway. She was inspired to approach the Ministry of Transportation when she observed a doe with a badly broken back leg bravely nurse her fawn for weeks before disappearing, having given him the best chance at life that she could.

Wildlife collisions have been identified as a concern for drivers. At this time of year when one deer is spotted at the side of the road or highway others will be close behind; the fawns. Municipal “leaping deer” signs are small and often overlooked, rarely mitigating vehicle/deer collisions as they are left up all year.

The potential for these electronic road hazard signs to warn drivers at peak seasons for wildlife movement cannot be overstated. Drivers across the province would benefit from these timely signs, as they could be updated for species that are relevant to particular regions.

Thank you to the Ministry, and to Dana Livingstone for the idea and the hard work to make this happen. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Contraceptive vaccine planned for Oak Bay deer

Cindy E Harnett/Times Colonist
April 10, 2018

Twenty does, including this one, were radio-collared in Oak Bay last month.
Photograph By SUBMITTED

Administration of a contraceptive vaccine is being planned to manage deer in Oak Bay after 20 does were radio-collared last month.
Data from the collared does and 40 motion-sensor infrared cameras set up along trails in Oak Bay will be reviewed before the vaccine can be administered.

The program is “ground-breaking” and the first time in B.C. and Canada that the immunocontraceptive vaccine, Zonastat-D, would be used in a small, contained urban setting to manage deer, said Steve Huxter, of the non-profit Victoria-based Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS).
If a permit from the province is granted, the birth-control drug would be administered to a number of female indigenous Columbian black-tailed deer as early as August, said Huxter, who is the project manager.

Oak Bay has adopted a $40,000 program, jointly funded by the municipality and the province, to control the deer population using immunocontraception.
About 40 deer are found dead in Oak Bay each year, mostly hit by vehicles or entangled or impaled on fences.
“That’s not a humane way to reduce our deer population,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.
Conflict with humans and small domestic animals is also a concern.
A cull in Oak Bay in 2015 saw 11 deer killed in two weeks. Jensen calls it a “relative success,” but it created a rift in the community and sparked protests by the B.C. SPCA and animal-rights activists.
That led to adoption of the current program, of which the first phase was conducted from Feb. 18 to March 23 by the UWSS’s wildlife veterinarian, a biologist and team of volunteers.
They sedated the 20 does and fitted them with GPS collars weighing less than one pound and with colour-coded tags for future identification. The process, including recovery and release, took a maximum of 30 minutes, according to the society.
Five young bucks were inadvertently captured and then ear tagged, but were not fitted with GPS collars. Forty motion-sensor cameras were installed to photograph the animals as they wander.
This first phase of the program is expected to provide baseline data on the ecology of urban deer, movement patterns, density, and population size.
They don’t have a population count yet, but Oak Bay’s mayor said he knows for certain “there’s too many deer in Oak Bay.”
A decade ago, there were years when just one or two were found dead in the municipality, said Jensen. For the past five to six years, about 40 have been found dead each year. There’s been a “rapid escalation” over the last six years, he said.
“It’s encouraging to see the first phase was completed successfully and now the second phase will hopefully be underway in the next six to 12 months.”
In the second phase, does will be given the drug Zonastat-D. It blocks fertilization by triggering production of antibodies that bind to the protein envelope surrounding the egg.
It’s “very very safe,” said Huxter.
The does will either be captured and the drug injected by hand or the deer will be shot with a contraceptive dart that will administer the drug and mark the spot for identification. “It’s a lot faster, more efficient and cost effective to use a darting rifle,” said Huxter.
An issue with the drug is that it’s only effective for 12 to 22 months, said Huxter.
UWSS includes scientists, wildlife veterinarians, biologists, graduate students, animal behaviourists and community volunteers. It is working with a laboratory in the hopes of developing a vaccine that is effective for five to seven years, he said.
The vaccine would not be harmful to a human or predator if the deer were consumed, said Huxter.
If successful, UWSS hopes the program will serve as an effective, community-supported template for urban deer management around North America.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Kimberley wants access to residents’ properties for deer translocation

Cranbrook, BC, Canada / The Drive FM
January 31, 2018 10:50 am

The City of Kimberley is seeking permission from residents to move forward with its deer translocation project.
Staff are asking property owners if they will allow biologists onto their properties to tranquilize and remove mule deer.
City Councillor Darryl Oakley believes residents will be supportive and appreciate the alternative initiative.
He says many people have approached him and commented they appreciate the animals don’t suffer.
Leading the initiative, Oakley insists mule deer translocate very well and aren’t armed in horse trailers.
However, the Councillor admits residents have every right not to allow biologists onto their property.
Kimberley expects to remove up to 50 ungulates by tranqualizing and trucking them to winter range outside of city limits.
Mayor Don McCormick has said several times Council will no longer pursue lethal deer culls as a management option.
The Province has committed to provide matching funds of up to $25,000 for February’s initiative.
Oakley says staff and experts will target high density areas based off information gathered from complaints from residents and the City’s deer count.
He says it would be a huge help from residents if they were to allow the team into these areas.

Monday, December 18, 2017

B.C. government ends grizzly bear hunt

The British Columbia government is bringing an end to the hunting of grizzly bears throughout the province, Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, announced today.
“Through consultations this past fall, we have listened to what British Columbians have to say on this issue and it is abundantly clear that the grizzly hunt is not in line with their values,” Donaldson said. “Our government continues to support hunting in this province and recognizes our hunting heritage is of great importance to many British Columbians.”
The spring grizzly bear hunt was scheduled to open on April 1, 2018, but the ban on hunting for resident and non-resident hunters takes effect immediately.
“Our government is committed to improving wildlife management in B.C., and today’s announcement, along with a focused grizzly bear management plan, are the first steps in protecting one of our most iconic species,” Heyman said. “We also want to promote the healthy grizzly bear viewing economy in B.C. and give everyone the tremendous opportunity to see these incredible animals in their natural habitat.”
“After years of work on this file, my colleagues and I are absolutely overjoyed this decision has finally been made,” said Adam Olsen, Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. “The results of the consultation were clear and government has listened. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”
In August 2017, government announced that, effective Nov. 30, 2017, it would end trophy hunting of grizzly bears and stop all hunting of grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest. Government also announced it would launch a consultation process on regulations to support a sustenance hunt, while ending the trophy hunt.
Through the consultation process with First Nations, stakeholder groups and the public, 78% of respondents recommended the hunt be stopped entirely.
First Nations will still be able to harvest grizzly bears pursuant to Aboriginal rights for food, social, or ceremonial purposes, or treaty rights.  
There are an estimated 15,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia. 
Provincial government staff will be implementing recommendations from the recent Auditor General report on grizzly bear management. The government will also be moving forward with a broader consultation process on a renewed wildlife management strategy for the province in the new year.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Salt Spring Island Deer: Killing to Conserve

Photo credit: Mark Schneider

Salt Spring Island is the most densely populated island in the Capital Regional District. The Salt Spring Island Conservancy was formed to protect, restore, enhance and maintain wildlife habitats and ecosystems on their seven nature reserves. Seven hundred acres of conservancy land represent 1% of Salt Spring Island’s land. These pockets of fiercely defended areas are an admirable attempt to keep housing development, animal agriculture and other business enterprises at bay.

1 of 7 nature reserves on Salt Spring Island

On November 4, 2017 the conservancy opened the Alvin Indiridson Nature Reserve to a local deer cull. This wasn’t the first time. The conservancy has declared indigenous black tailed deer a nuisance on their nature reserves. They have invited the local rod and gun club to kill deer on their lands annually since 2010. This year a notice was posted around the island by an unknown party. It served to highlight a completely unmanaged, unscientific deer cull.

On September 24, 2016 a letter to the Times Colonist by an island resident was critical of the conservancy’s deer cull, stating “The open invitation that has been extended to members of our local gun club on their website to kill animals for sport on conservancy property says: ‘A great arrangement - let’s take advantage of it.’ Personally, I doubt that the conservancy backers or the deer believe this is a “great arrangement.” - John Callas 

A scientific count of deer on the island has never been conducted. A survey of residents’ attitudes regarding deer has never taken place.

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation featured Salt Spring Island Conservancy in an article on their blog called “Natural Allies.” They asked the conservancy what prompted them to get together with the Rod and Gun club, and this was the answer:

“[Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation]! In response to this need for capacity, HCTF provided funding to cover staffing costs during the acquisition of the 320 acre Hope Hill Property, which is now known as the Alvin Indridson Nature reserve. In acknowledgement of the fact that HCTF funds come from hunting & angling licence fees, we made the commitment to allow hunting on the property. This was new ground for us. I am really excited about it because of the potential benefit that hunting could have on the Island’s deer situation. There is mounting evidence that an overabundance of deer can have a significant impact on everything from endangered plants to songbird populations, so for us to have a reserve where deer hunting is allowed is almost an ecological imperative.

However, it soon became apparent that we didn’t have the expertise within the Conservancy to manage a hunting reserve, and (naturally) we thought of the local Rod & Gun club.

Robin Annschild, Conservation Director of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy, takes aim beside John Foley, President of the SSI Rod & Gun Club” - Natural Allies blog post, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation

The conservancy has failed to research the very real consequences of culling deer. Compensatory rebound is a well-documented population dynamic that occurs when herd density is temporarily reduced through hunting. Removing large numbers of deer will produce a increase in the number of fawns born, with does reproducing at a younger age. Studies have proven that after a hunt surviving females produced enough offspring to not only replace those killed, but enough to actually increase the size of the herd. When a vacancy is created by a cull deer from surrounding areas will move into the area.

They have also failed to survey their donors regarding the morality of killing indigenous wildlife on a nature reserve.

The conservancy states on their website: “If, as author J.B. MacKinnon says, we now live in a 10% world - where humans have altered the ecology of about 90% of the planet - we think it’s sensible to set aside a good portion of the island for places where nature comes first, and where human beings bow to nature and alter their actions accordingly.”

By ignoring the science on the culling of deer the Salt Spring Island Conservancy, who hold in trust 1% of the land on the island, has committed the rest of Salt Spring Island to a permanent problem.

Kelly Carson
for Victoria Animal News

Monday, October 23, 2017

Breaking News: Expert Believes Cull of Deer is Necessary

Forest Ecologist Calls For Deer Cull

By Frants Attorp
Special to the Driftwood
The proliferation of deer on the Gulf Islands gained widespread media attention earlier this month when Oak Bay Police Chief Andy Brinton collided with a deer whilst cycling on Salt Spring. Brinton suffered several broken bones but is reportedly going to make a full recovery. The high-profile accident raised the question of whether Salt Spring, like Oak Bay, should consider a deer cull.
* Everyone knows what a financial and social disaster Oak Bay’s 2015 deer cull was. I strongly advise the author to read “An Independent Review of BC’s Urban Deer Management,” McCrory, Paquet and Parr 2017 *
The link to the study is in this article by Animal Alliance of Canada:
One person interviewed extensively was Dr. Tara Martin, a UBC expert in forest ecology who was born and raised on Salt Spring. She believes the deer problem in the Gulf Islands has reached a crisis level and must be addressed as a priority.
According to Martin, there are at least six times as many deer on Salt Spring as is healthy for local ecosystems. “When settlers arrived 150 years ago, there were no more than 1,000 black-tailed deer on the island,” she said. “Today, that number has increased to over 6,000.”
* Another stunning statistic thrown out by someone claiming scientific integrity, with no pretense at corroboration for the claim. *
The population explosion is attributed largely to a loss of traditional hunting by Coast Salish First Nations, and insufficient hunting since. Another contributing factor is the eradication of top predators, cougars and wolves. “There is no longer any top down control to keep the deer population in check,” said Martin.
* That technical term top down requires an explanation by the expert in forest ecology.  *
Deer overpopulation has been devastating for the local ecology. “Our forests may look beautiful, but they are vastly different than before and in a state of steady decline,” explained Martin. She points out that marvellous wildflowers such as the chocolate lily, the fawn lily and camas, which used to carpet vast areas, have all but disappeared. Also susceptible to over-browsing are shrubs such as Saskatoon berry, huckleberry and red currant. Even arbutus, cedar and Garry oak seedlings are not spared.
* Clearing land for homes and businesses, roads and infrastructure has had a devastating effect on the local ecology on Salt Spring Island. Ferry traffic, visitors hiking to every pristine destination, raising of livestock has had a devastating effect. Personal gardens planted with invasive species, pesticides to keep the aphids off the roses, herbicides to keep the dandelions out of the lawns has had a devastating effect. * 
Deer browsing of the understory is changing the composition and structure of our forests, and this in turn is having a disastrous effect on birds that use that habitat for foraging and nesting. Songbirds such as fox sparrow, winter wren and Wilson’s warbler are becoming increasingly rare. “We are witnessing a cascading ecological collapse due to over-browsing,” said Martin.
* Fencing works. *
There is also the impact on humans to consider. According to Martin, there is an average of one ICBC claim per week on Salt Spring due to vehicles colliding with deer. Some accidents are minor fender benders while others are more serious, involving personal injury.
* There are 52 weeks in a year. Is Tara Martin referring to a particular date range? 2012 - 2015? Or perhaps 2014 - 2017? These are statistics that can be easily followed up with, if only she could provide us with a date range. *
So what is the solution? Martin believes the first obstacle to overcome is the Bambi syndrome which causes some people to value the lives of deer over all other plant and animal species.
* “Bambi syndrome.” Now there’s a term we haven’t heard since 2012, when some Kootenay councilors thought they were being really clever. *
“We have a responsibility to maintain habitat for all species, not just deer,” said Martin. “Yes, deer are beautiful animals, but when there are too many they are tremendously destructive and can drive other species to extinction.
* I can’t touch this comment without bashing my own species [the ‘Unique Super Predator’ Darimont, Fox, Reimchen and Bryan, 2015], so we’ll just have to wait for Tara Martin to clarify her claim. * 
More specifically, Martin wants to see hunting regulations changed to allow a greater bag limit.
* Has Tara Martin asked Salt Spring Island residents how they would feel about people with guns and bows running around their community? I didn’t think so. *
“Two bucks per person is not enough,” she asserts. “And there’s no way to manage the population if hunters aren’t allowed to take females.” She believes hunting is the only cost-effective method of control. Other measures, such as sterilization, are hugely stressful for the animals, extremely costly and often ineffective.
* Sterilization is a surgical procedure that has not been a part of deer management conversations in any province in Canada. Tara Martin is apparently unaware that a pilot project for immunocontraception is currently being conducted in Oak Bay. *
According to Martin, at least a third of the island could be suitable for hunting. This includes First Nations’ land, parks, ecological reserves, forestry lands and other large, private holdings. She would like to see a coordinated effort involving First Nations, BC Parks, the CRD, conservation officers, farmers and local hunters.
“This is a problem we can solve, with tremendous benefits for all.”
* Fencing works. *
Martin would also like to see a change in attitude towards top predators: “There are currently two cougars and a black bear on the island. Let’s allow them to do their job rather than trying to eradicate them. This may involve some changes to how we manage our livestock, such as putting them in at night and having a guard dog, but it is possible.
* It’s highly unlikely that island residents are going to give top predators the run of the island. *
She adds that culling deer will actually make the deer population stronger. A colleague of hers has found high levels of ticks and liver fluke parasite in deer on Salt Spring, which is attributed to their high densities. He has also confirmed that the liver fluke is spreading to livestock. Low levels of the parasite have little effect on animal health, but extreme levels can kill the host animal. Humans, however, are not affected by ingesting the parasite.
* It’s only a matter of time before she cites Lyme Disease as a concern. So far she’s followed all the rules for the vilification of wildlife. *
And what about those pesky rabbits?
* And since we have our guns out, why don’t we just blast away at another species that annoys some of us? *
“They are not native to the island and should therefore be trapped or hunted at every opportunity. They finish up what the deer don’t eat and are contributing to the destruction. Both deer and rabbit are a great source of organic free-range protein. How about serving venison burgers at the Fall Fair?”
* Or how about we follow another cliche and feed them to the poor? *
As evidence that deer control works, Martin points to several small areas on the island that have been fenced off and, as a result, are rebounding to their former glory.
* Yes, folks, fencing works. We’ve been telling you this for years. *
“We have everything to gain by managing the deer population,” she said. “Not only will we reduce the risk to motorists, but also restore our native ecosystems with an abundance of wildflowers and songbirds and at the same time improve the health of the deer population.”

* So, the welfare of the deer is really at the heart of this article.*