Hunters touted as answer to farmers’ deer troubles

Farmers should try to work more closely with hunters this year to deal with problem deer, Greater Victoria officials say.

Measures available under the Farm Practices Protection Act — which allows hunting to protect crops — should be given a chance before the province will consider other options, Capital Regional District planning members were told Wednesday.

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“There would be more support or better support for a larger capture-and-euthanize program down the road if these other measures had been put into place and still the problem persisted, and therefore further or more significant action needed to be taken to reduce the population,” said Marg Misek-Evans, the CRD acting director of planning and protective services.

A one-day workshop, hosted by Peninsula Agriculture Commission, will run Friday at the Saanich Fairground.

A key element of the workshop is to match farmers with hunters. First Nations communities on the Peninsula have also been invited.

CRD staff have met with representatives of Saanich, Central Saanich, North Saanich and the province to look at the best ways to implement a deer strategy — paying particular attention to first solving deer problems on farms.

Responsibility for nuisance wildlife is split between municipalities and the province. The CRD is co-ordinating a local response to address growing concern about deer damaging crops, munching through gardens and becoming a menace to traffic.

The region also has been given legal advice that provincial Farm Practices Protection Act regulations supersede local government bylaws with respect to firearms, Misek-Evans said.

“So even where there is a requirement under local bylaw for local police permission, the farmer would not be found in violation of any bylaw by going straight to the province to have the permit issued and bypassing that local permission,” she said.

“And that also extends to if the local bylaw has more stringent setbacks or separation requirements for discharge of a weapon than what exists in the Wildlife Act.

“The [farm act] exempts them from those more onerous distance separation requirements and the default would be the discharge distance requirements under the Wildlife Act.”

The workshop will address issues such as bag limits, required permits and licensing, and use of third-party hunters to protect crops.

“We have a ministry rep coming out from Nanaimo to walk through the application process … and actually, hopefully, help some farmers fill out the application while they are there,” she said.

“In the afternoon, we’re opening it up to hunters by invitation to come in and listen to speakers from the B.C. Wildlife Federation about the Outdoor Passport Program [a voluntary initiative focused on hunter safety and humane treatment of animals],” Misek-Evans said.

Meanwhile, some municipalities are taking additional steps.

Central Saanich councillors have asked staff to investigate opportunities to use sharpshooters to kill deer.

The municipality also is looking into offering a bounty for deer killed under a population-reduction program as well as support for First Nations deer harvests.

Councillors also voted to work with the CRD and province to investigate limited use of single-slug and projectile firearms for shooting deer and to ask the province to amend hunting regulations and deer bag limits for crop protection.

Both North and Central Saanich will consider bylaws that prohibit feeding wildlife.

“I hope there’s enough initiatives there that will give the farmers something of what they’re looking for this growing season,” said North Saanich Coun. Ted Daly, also a CRD director.

Daly wishes his municipality had been as aggressive as Central Saanich in regard to hunting, he said, adding North Saanich will also write the province asking for an increase in bag limits.

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