This picture shows the effects of fallow deer on the forest understory on Sidney Island. The animals eat in the words of one local First Nation “anything and everything.” (Parks Canada/Submitted)

This picture shows the effects of fallow deer on the forest understory on Sidney Island. The animals eat in the words of one local First Nation “anything and everything.” (Parks Canada/Submitted)

Parks Canada wants to eradicate invasive deer on small island near Victoria

Proposal to shoot about 400-500 fallow deer part of a larger plan to restore local ecology

Parks Canada staff say the proposed eradication of invasive deer on a small island northeast of Victoria with small-calibre firearms will unfold in the safest, most humane way possible and help restore the ecology of the island.

But obstacles remain ahead, including approval from one of the stakeholders and questions about the actual number of animals.

The eradication of fallow deer is part of a larger plan to restore the natural ecology of Sidney Island that includes multiple stakeholders: Parks Canada, local First Nations, Sidney Island residents, provincial authorities and the Island Trust Conservancy.

Melissa Banovich, acting superintendent of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, said the animals have been over-browsing local plants, undermining ecological restoration efforts.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to make a significant change to the landscape for the better that we will see in our life time, not to mention generations to come,” added Ben Tooby, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve project manager.

European settlers introduced fallow deer in the early 1900s for sport hunting. It is not clear how many live on the island. Winter hunting by local residents and First Nations on the portion of the island controlled by Parks Canada has helped bring down the numbers, but their continued presence has made it difficult for island’s ecology.

“They eat anything and everything that they can reach,” said Eric Pelky, community engagement coordinator, with the WSANEC (Saanich People) Leadership Council. “So it is really hard for anything to survive with the fallow deer being there.”

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The deer have denied local First Nations access to medicine harvested from plants and crowded out black tail deer, a traditional food source. Pelky, said black tail deer are barely hanging on.

It is not clear yet how much eradication would cost and how it would unfold, assuming all stakeholders sign off on the larger proposal, something that has not yet happened yet.

Triana Newton, spokesperson for some 90 owners of 111 bare-strata lots on the southern part of the island, said they recently received the proposal, which will be put to strata membership for a vote. A final decision could come mid-summer.

Newton said the current focus lies on gathering every possible piece of information, so owners can make the most informed decision.

“Some are rooted in ecological restoration, there are some rooted in wildlife preservation and you’ve got some that are also rooted in food security and food sourcing,” she said. “So we have a spectrum of views through our ownership.”

Banovich said the actual tactics of rounding up the animals remain under development and the consultation period that closes on June 17 gives members of public the opportunity to flag any outstanding issues.

Assuming approval, Parks Canada plans to hire a contractor with plans calling for eradication trials in the fall and winter of 2021-2022, with the actual cull taking place a year later.

Each would take place in the fall and winter when the park remains closed to tourists and the least amount of the people live on the island, said Banovich.

The culling of deer elsewhere has been the cause of controversy, a point Pelky acknowledged. “We are thinking that there might be some negative feedback from animal rights groups. So we are kind of prepared to answer questions about that.”

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With no official figure available, the best available estimate pegs the fallow deer population between 400 to 500 animals, said Newtown.

Tooby said Parks Canada considered non-lethal methods of eradicating the animals, including the relocation of animals and the use of sterilisation and contraceptives to limit reproduction.

“Fallow deer are an invasive species so relocating these animals to alternate sites within the region would not be appropriate. Sterilization and the use of contraceptives requires animal capture and in some cases, repeated administration. With a population of this size, this would not be a realistic or humane option.”

Sara Dubois, director of science and policy division and chief scientific officer for the BC SPCA, confirmed her organization has been consulting with Parks Canada for several years, adding it has not yet seen the final plan, because it still awaits approval from stakeholders. This said, Dubois added it is rare for the BC SPCA to be involved in such a project at this stage.

“We have really appreciated the opportunity to be engaged in the project from start to finish,” she said.

“The BC SPCA doesn’t support any eradication, unless the animals themselves were suffering from disease or injury or starving on the island or something like that, but we might not oppose a project that met all of of the ethical wildlife control principles and has benefits to other animals.”

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