Editorial: Province should lead on deer issue

The province’s commitment of up to $100,000 a year for urban deer-management and research projects is a welcome first step, but it’s such a tiny first step. This is a major problem that requires leadership, not just token involvement, by the B.C. government.

The funding and the creation of a provincial urban-deer advisory committee was announced Thursday in response to concerns from the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

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As Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen points out, the province has, for the first time, accepted the principle that it has a responsibility to deal with the deer problem. But it has allocated a pitifully small amount of money, especially considering that since 2013, Oak Bay and the Capital Regional District have spent a total of $270,000 for two deer-management pilot projects.

Local governments across the province wrestle constantly with the thorny issue of human-deer conflicts. Don’t do anything, and you face the wrath of homeowners who are tired of seeing their gardens ravaged and their pets threatened. Take firm steps, and you get national attention as the murderer of deer.

It’s a problem that transcends municipal boundaries; trying to solve it piecemeal will be a waste of time and resources. Wildlife falls under provincial jurisdiction, and the province, with its greater resources and broader reach, should not be leaving it up to municipalities.

Rather than an advisory committee that doles out bits of money here and there, the province should organize a comprehensive, co-ordinated effort that involves a heavy dose of science. Public input should be a component, but as the CRD experience indicates, simply gathering various factions around a table accomplishes little. Sitting down to talk isn’t likely to shrink the distances between vastly differing viewpoints.

Too many questions have gone unanswered.

Are there too many deer? How many are too many? Is overcrowding affecting the health of the deer population?

Are the deer a problem because they have been driven out of their habitat, or are they a problem because urban areas have created a predator-free habitat loaded with an endless smorgasbord of shrubs and plants?

Does culling work? How effective is contraception? Municipalities throughout North America and Europe wrestle with this same problem — what solutions have been tried elsewhere and how successful are they?

What do the biologists and other scientists have to say on these topics? Can they suggest management methods and solutions?

Various solutions have been suggested. Build deer-proof fences? Do we want to turn our neighbourhoods into fortresses? Plant deer-proof shrubs and flowers? Good luck with that — among the deer-proof plants suggested by one website is hosta, but the deer in the CRD obviously haven’t read that website. The truth is, deer have an extremely varied diet, and there aren’t many plants they won’t eat, especially after a hot, dry summer when much of their natural diet is scarce.

This is an issue that demands proper research, collected, collated and analyzed, not anecdotes and guesses. It’s an emotionally charged issue — emotions should not be dismissed, but science needs to reign.

The province should lead this effort, examine best practices, suggest solutions, then follow up on the effectiveness of those solutions. The problem will never be solved to everyone’s satisfaction, but perhaps a better balance can be found.

It’s good that the province has dipped its toe into this issue, but it should dive right in and take charge.

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