A deer eradication project that’ll begin in the winter of 2024 will restore native plants, according to officials.
In two phases beginning in winter 2023, all deer on Sidney Island will be eradicated to restore native plants and ecosystems and improve the land’s vegetation.
This is because European Fallow deer have been responsible for destroying the plants.
On Monday, officials from Parks Canada, Tsawout and Tsartlip First Nation, and the W̱SÁNEĆ leadership council invited media to Sidney Island.
In fall 2021, Parks Canada built 10 fenced enclosures that had native seeds planted and were protected from the fallow deer. Two years later, many of those plants continue to sprout.
“All that happened was this square was protected from fallow deer, and this is the recovery that has taken place thanks to the existing seed bank,” said Kate Humble, superintendent with Gulf Island National Park Reserve.
Outside the enclosure, there was evidence of deer eating through the vegetation.
“No forest understory here except for basically invasive grass,” said Humble.
Fallow deer were first introduced to the nearby James Island in the early 1900s for hunting but eventually migrated to Sidney Island. The population quickly grew, and Parks Canada estimates around 300 to 900 fallow deer reside there.
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Phase 1 of the project will involve two trained marksmen in a helicopter and will shoot as many deer as possible over a ten-day period. The second phase will happen in 2024 and see ground crews search for any remaining deer using tracker dogs.
Abraham Pelkey, Chief of the Tsawout First Nation, says the decision to cull the deer was not an easy one.
“Seeing it through the lens of our elders and my family here. To see that this is about restoring balance to SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island),” said Pelkey.
The carcasses will be handed over to local First Nations for food and ceremonial purposes.
“We are good stewards of the land and we need this time so much from the wildlife here to restore our ways here. Coming back to such a way, I am very happy,” said Pelkey.
Officials admit that the native black-tailed deer will be victims of the culling, adding that it would be difficult to differentiate the two species during the culling.
Portland Island is the example that Parks Canada is using of how restoration could look like. With an abundance of wild berries and arbutus trees, Tsawout members say it showcases effective management.
“No fallow deer or black-tailed deer has allowed things to really thrive here without overconsume. We come here and we really appreciate the natural beauty that’s here, and we want to keep it this and keep it this way of its natural state because that’s how our medicine people are able to find their medicines,” said Erik Pelkey, Hereditary Chief for Tsawout.
The $5.9 million project involves Parks Canada, Tsawout and Tsartlip First Nations, Pauquachin First Nation, Islands Trust Conservancy, Sallas Forest Strata and the Province of B.C.
Phase 1 will begin in winter 2023.