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B.C. SPCA 'not opposed' to mass deer kill on Sidney Island

When deer numbers are high, the deer struggle to find adequate food on the island and are susceptible to starvation and disease, the group says.

The B.C. SPCA says it’s not opposed to a planned mass deer kill on Sidney Island, saying it would stop the “ineffective killing cycle” of seasonal hunting over the past several decades.

The animal welfare agency said this week that it has been consulted by Parks Canada since 2017, when the deer eradication plan was in the planning stage, and will have personnel on the ground when the hunt begins on Dec. 1.

The deer kill will be done by sharpshooters using semi-automatic weapons firing from a helicopter, hunters and dogs on the ground, and possibly from boats on the water.

In its statement this week, the B.C. SPCA called the plan to eradicate the deer “scientifically sound,” and said it will be conducted humanely and ethically, and “will result in less animal suffering in the long term.”

The society said past culls have only meant that the population rebounds, which has resulted in a continuous cycle of killing through unlimited hunting and periodic culling repeated for decades. “When deer numbers are high, as they have been in the past, the deer struggle to find adequate food on the island and are susceptible to starvation and disease,” the group said.

“The complete removal of deer now, while populations are low, through a one-time eradication program by professionals causes the least harm and ultimately reduces animal suffering and the number of animals negatively affected.”

The mass killing of the fallow deer population — estimated at about 300 animals — has split Sidney Island residents. Some oppose the kill and favour controlling the population through ongoing hunting and harvesting, while others support it, saying the deer have wrecked the ecosystem through over-browsing of native plants and rendered the forest understory almost bare.

The B.C. SPCA said its wildlife biologists have been invited to attend several days of the operation to observe and provide feedback on any concerns.

The animal-welfare group opposes hunting of any animal for recreation, sport, pleasure and/or trophy purposes, but says hunting has been part of Indigenous people’s way of life for millennia.

The plan for the Sidney Island eradication project is for members of the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, Pauquachin First Nation and Tsawout First Nation to harvest meat from the kill and distribute it to families in their nations. The First Nations have said they support the deer kill to bring back native species and plants that they say are culturally important.

The B.C. SPCA said the professional marksmen being deployed will follow guidance from the Parks Canada Animal Care Committee and the province’s veterinarians under the B.C. Wildlife Health Program.

Alternative methods such as contraception or relocating the deer are not feasible, it said, adding relocating the animals would simply shift the ecological impacts elsewhere, while contraception does not remove the population or help the ecosystem recover.

“Indefinite management of fallow deer would mean more deer suffering and being killed every year and would still not achieve the goal of long-term sustained ecological recovery,” the group said.

The B.C. SPCA’s stance on the project doesn’t sit well with Saltair residents Jackie and Brad Anderson, who have never been to Sidney Island but told the Times Colonist they are “horrified” by the deer-killing plan.

“I’m all for the protection of animals and I always thought the SPCA was the same … until now,” said Jackie Anderson. “I’ve been giving monetary donations to them every month for years, but this really changes how I feel about them.”

The society’s stance surprised Sidney Island resident Mike Parfitt, who voted in favour of the deer kill.

“The B.C. SPCA isn’t exactly a middle-of-the-road, please-everybody kind of [non-governmental organization],” Parfitt said. “I mean, it opposes almost all non-Indigenous hunting and fishing almost directly. It’s an aggressive pro-animal group. Not in anybody’s pocket, certainly not any federal agency.

“I was vaguely aware that the B.C. SPCA wasn’t actively opposing the eradication, but I thought that would be done very quietly, because going out on a limb like this over something that is so hard to deal with emotionally as killing deer might be controversial inside the organization.”