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: https://www.animalalliance.ca/campaigns/other-campaigns/deer-in-british-columbia/
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.*