Comment: Deer cull a pointless waste of money and life

Last week, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen proudly proclaimed his district’s controversial deer cull a “success” after 11 deer were trapped and killed in a “pilot” population-reduction program.

But Oak Bay and Capital Regional District taxpayers aren’t fooled. By any measure, there is no success to be celebrated. Even before the culling started, the mayor could not demonstrate how killing these animals would reduce deer complaints.

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The decision to cull evolved out of a deeply flawed CRD process, had no basis in science, ignored proven non-lethal alternatives, and was roundly condemned by credible animal welfare groups and scientists as ineffective and inhumane.

This issue goes far beyond the ethics of killing wild animals because they’re deemed by some to be a nuisance. This is about democratic processes and an expectation that our elected officials will make responsible, evidence-based and transparent policy decisions after gathering all necessary information, consulting broadly, and carefully considering and implementing viable management options.

The pilot cull was part of the CRD’s Regional Deer Management Strategy crafted by a citizens advisory group that was supposed to have been broadly representative. But from the outset, the process was compromised by a lack of openness and credible research, and a pro-cull bias.

Oak Bay residents were never surveyed about their opinions on urban-deer management, even though a 2010 report commissioned by the B.C. government strongly recommends this be done.

No scientific deer count has ever taken place, despite the expertise sitting nearby at the University of Victoria. Instead, workers drove along main roads over a five-day period in April 2014, counting deer. (The highest number seen in one day was 26.)

Oak Bay may have used deer complaints to estimate numbers, but it has yet to release the statistics. According to CRD figures, only 13 deer complaints have come from Oak Bay in the past two years, most of these revolving around gardens.

Jensen says: “It is clear there has been an explosion of the [deer] population over the last five or 10 years.” Yet no one has provided clear statistical or objectively derived observational evidence to support this statement.

Studies from elsewhere stress the importance of non-lethal measures to mitigate human-deer conflicts, such as ongoing public education, road signs and speed reduction. The terms of reference of the CRD Regional Deer Management Strategy state that culls are recommended only after all other means of deer management have been tried and found to be ineffective.

Have these measures been tried by Oak Bay? The district will tell you yes, but don’t be deceived.

There has been no meaningful outreach to Oak Bay residents, other than leaflets inserted once into a flyer-laden community newspaper.

Deer-vehicle collisions are a concern. ICBC statistics show that Oak Bay had 13 deer-vehicle incidents in 2013. More than 70 per cent of collisions occurred on roads adjacent to Uplands Golf Course. Has Oak Bay lowered speed limits in this area? No, it hasn’t.

In fact, throughout Oak Bay, measures to reduce deer-vehicle collisions such as signs, speed reduction in high-risk areas and speed-limit enforcement have been minimal.

Given these shortcomings, why was Oak Bay granted a cull permit by the province? The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says it does not evaluate mitigation efforts before issuing a permit. All Oak Bay had to do was take the minimal actions needed to check off the required boxes.

We believe Oak Bay’s objective all along was a cull. Whatever motivation drove this single-minded path, it overlooked due process, science, public consultation, reasonable alternatives and overwhelming evidence that culls do not eliminate human-deer conflicts.

It also ignored the B.C. SPCA — the independent authority for the humane treatment of animals — which has repeatedly stated that a cull is “not a sustainable or evidence-based solution for managing deer in this area.”

Yet here we are with 11 dead deer (at a cost to CRD taxpayers of more than $250,000), a community bitterly divided, and a mayor hinting of plans to expand the cull next winter based on “lessons learned.”

But what have we really learned? Only that a basic lack of knowledge about biology, ecology and economics, combined with reckless fear-mongering about public health and safety, leads to bad public-policy decisions and a pointless waste of money and animal life.

Liz White is a director of Animal Alliance Canada. Barry MacKay is with Born Free U.S.A. and is on the board of Animal Alliance Canada. Both also represented the B.C. Deer Protection Society in a written presentation to Oak Bay council in February. To see a copy of their report on the Oak Bay cull, visit animalalliance.ca

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