Opinion: Cull the best solution to overpopulation

No other method can solve the basic problem - too many deer

We are avid Saanich gardeners and are among the thousands of Capital Regional District residents who believe we have too many deer. We believe conflicts between deer and humans can be substantially reduced or eliminated by humane, safe and cost-effective culling.

Deer eat and destroy food, ornamental, and native plants; defecate on lawns and gardens; threaten humans and dogs, particularly in the fawning and rutting seasons; are involved in vehicle and bike collisions; and transmit disease to humans (e.g. Lyme disease).

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In its August report to the CRD's planning, transportation and protective services committee, the community advisory group explored 11 options for urban areas.

Among the options favoured were three for population culling (sharpshooters, controlled hunting, capture and euthanize) and four for deer-behaviour modification (repellents, fencing, landscaping, hazing). The status quo was rejected.

Population control by relocating deer to the bush was not supported because capturing, loading and transporting causes stress and kills too many animals.

Furthermore, citified deer are not wilderness-savvy, making them easy prey for wolves and cougars.

Immunocontraception, the use of a vaccine that causes an animal to become temporarily infertile, was rejected because the drugs are not yet approved for use in Canada. In addition, more than 85 per cent of the deer should be injected every year or two. This is costly, and benefits from reduced birth rate take years to be felt.

However, once the deer population is reduced by culling, immunocontracep-tion may be useful to keep it at an acceptable level, which in turn will result in healthier deer (fewer injuries and less disease).

Conflict reduction by hazing or frightening deer can provide short-term relief, until the deer become habituated and ignore what is scaring them, or simply move to nearby "safe" properties.

Costly repellents such as Bobbex don't always work.

If the food is highly desirable, such as fruit or tender new growth, the deer eat it anyway. We sprayed pears and new laurel leaves; within a couple of days the deer ate all of them.

In addition, repellents are unhealthy for humans and a foul-smelling nuisance to apply every few days. This limits their use.

Permanent fences higher than 2.5 metres, not legal in Saanich, can be effective for plant protection if made of wire mesh, buried a foot underground, and attached to crossbars and sturdy posts, preferably cemented in. However, creating Fort Knox to keep deer out of a half-acre property would cost well over $5,000. For some properties, fencing is totally impractical and downright unneighbourly.

Finally, there is landscaping. Don't rely on native and deer-resistant plants. Gardeners can show you any number of these plants that deer eat and bucks thrash.

Deer are, to many people, "sacred cows" that should be left unharmed, as would be the case with behaviour-modification options, which, unfortunately, merely move conflicts "next door." As well, these options don't address the root cause - too many deer - and most are unlikely to significantly reduce conflicts.

Culling, on the other hand, addresses both. A majority of those who contacted the CRD supported a cull. We expect the CRD board will respond to this strong support and ensure that deer-cull options are available for urban, rural and agricultural properties.

Sandy and Margaret Argue are Saanich residents.

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