Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Compassion, Fear and Hard Lessons

Love them or hate them, deer in Greater Victoria is a topic that has brought out some very strong emotions in our citizens. A few letters of complaint to the CRD by some disgruntled gardeners has touched off a debate that has never been seen in the history of our region – should urban deer be culled now that some residents consider them a nuisance?

The nuts and bolts of such an undertaking have become onerous. What levels of government should take financial responsibility for a killing program, should culling be decided as the best “management” practice? How much input should taxpayers have in the process? Do the majority of taxpayers agree that killing is the way they want their tax dollars spent when so few residents are affected by deer? How many deer should die? Will culling in one municipality with an issue affect surrounding municipalities that have no issues with their deer?

Setting aside the political wrangling that this topic has created, there is an equally important occurrence happening here. Neighbours are pitted against one another, discussions at workplaces have become heated, and friendships have been damaged. All this before culling even occurs. Should killing begin in Greater Victoria these emotions will only escalate, creating a deeper rift among residents.

Individuals who are for killing have fallen victim to the very powerful emotion of fear. They have heard from media sources that deer carry Lyme disease, are capable of stomping our children and that they are going to kill motorists in accidents. Fear-mongering has been a surprisingly effective tool to turn people against a wild animal that they have very little to no contact with. Close on the heels of anxiety comes reprisal. An “us against them” mentality has sprung up in our city, with no need to research the actual threat, and the consequence to the deer may be the loss of their lives.

Those who believe that the deer do not deserve a death sentence are also becoming anxiety-ridden. The ease with which plans have been put into place to kill these animals has gone ahead with alarming speed, and the voices of the compassionate have been both mocked and ignored.

For more than a year now I have been out on the streets of our municipalities, asking residents to sign a petition against deer killing. I've seen first-hand what a contentious issue like this will bring out in people. I've spoken with people who love to see deer in their yards and parks, and I've had people put their faces within inches of mine and scream at me that the deer have eaten all the plants in their yards. It saddens me to see that the angry residents among us are very sure that they have a killing policy on their side, citing the deer committee recommendations as proof that culling is the only way to rid them of an irritant.

We have allowed far too much development on Southern Vancouver Island to ever return to anything that will approach a comeback to a natural environment. Pockets of Gary Oak meadows hemmed in by roads and development, where only preferred species are permitted to survive (depending on the aesthetic values of the “stewards” of the day) are yet another urban garden.

Perhaps the most alarming effect that culling deer will have will be a social one. In a society that claims to abhor bullying, children will be taught by their communities that violence is, in fact, an acceptable way to solve problems.

A safe and healthy environment should be the right of us all. The best way to achieve that is with compassion, and a non-lethal deer management approach. This is our opportunity to use the intelligence that we so often give ourselves credit for, rather than killing out of anger and fear.

Kelly Carson

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