Anti-deer cull protesters target municipal talks

As cities across B.C. look for solutions, group presses for alternatives to killing

A deer suit is too warm for a sunny Victoria day, but a little sweat is worthwhile if councils can be persuaded to look at alternatives to killing deer, said May Dicastri as she stood outside Victoria Conference Centre on Wednesday.

"The idea of something dying over a flower garden or a vegetable is ludicrous," said Dicastri, one of about three dozen demonstrators trying to catch the attention of municipal politicians attending Union of B.C. Municipalities meetings.

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The Capital Regional District is struggling with the question of what to do about deer and a report from a citizens' advisory committee, suggesting everything from sharpshooters to a change in fence-height regulations, has gone to municipalities and staff.

But Greater Victoria is just one of many areas dealing with deer complaints. Culls have already been approved in Cranbrook, Kimberley and Invermere, where a legal challenge is underway.

That's why Kelly Carson of DeerSafe Victoria decided to pool resources with groups from other communities and form the B.C. Deer Protection Coalition.

"We are going to be doing more outreach with other groups and inviting other grassroots groups in," said Carson, who hopes to organize a meeting with B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake to talk about alternatives to killing the deer.

Protester Irene Pabsdorf suggested protecting gardens by tying a string with white plastic strips above fences.

"Or, if you don't have a fence, dig in fish fertilizer or bone meal - and they don't like human hair," she said.

But for farmers, the problem is more serious than lost tulip bulbs, and fences aren't always practical.

Jack Mar, who has farmed on the Peninsula for more than 50 years, said he will not even try growing strawberries next year. His raspberry canes were nibbled down twice this summer.

"The damage is twice as bad as last year. The number of deer has really increased," he said.

Farmers are allowed to shoot five crop-eating deer a year, but many, like Mar, cannot discharge a firearm on much of their property because fields are within 100 metres of a road or a building.

Fencing is not always practical on leased property, Mar said.

"Our property on Martindale Road is 75 acres and it's costing me $2 a foot to fence - and that's doing my own work," he said.

Dan Ponchet of Dan's Farm and Country Market has fenced his property and said that has stopped his deer problems.

"I have just been doing it over the last 20 years every time I lease a new field," he said. "Now my major issue is the geese."

One of the suggestions that has been made is that deer could be shot and eaten or farmed.

Deborah Berkes, who farms non-indigenous fallow deer at White Stag Game Ranch on Sparton Road, said there is no provision in provincial laws for farming the black-tailed deer found on Vancouver Island, she said.

"Our animals all go to a provincial abattoir with an inspector. I'm not sure how you would do it with wild deer unless you captured them and put them on a farm."

And that would not be easy, Berkes said. "Try and lasso that deer that's out nibbling your roses and you'll find out how wild he really is," she said.

However, there is a taste among consumers on Vancouver Island for deer, a low-fat meat, Berkes said. "We sell everything we produce here."

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