Mass killing of fallow deer on Sidney Island will go ahead


The days of European fallow deer running free on Sidney Island are numbered.

Local First Nations and the federal government plan to get rid of every last one due to the damage they’ve caused to native plant populations and local ecosystems.

“The evidence very strongly shows us that fallow deer are having a very negative impact on the forest understory, and the forest understory is the linchpin in many ways to the overall health of that ecosystem,” says Kate Humble, superintendent of the Gulf Island National Park Reserve.

It’s part of a $5.9-million contract to restore the Coastal Douglas-fir forest’s natural ecosystem on Sidney Island.

Photos from the Island show two very different ecosystems. The first is a bare forest floor where fallow deer have chewed away at vegetation, while the second is areas that have been fenced off, unable to be touched by deer, and full of greenery.

Erik Pelkey, the W̱SÁNEĆ Hereditary Chief, says the animals have essentially eradicated important plants that their people have used for centuries.

“They’ve eaten away all the medicinal plants our people usually go out there to Sidney Island for, all the ferns that our people use for salmon cooking and all the other natural plants have all been decimated,” says Pelkey.

Pelkey says at first, there was some pushback from his community on the cull because eradicating animals goes against the teachings of elders, “But we convinced them that the extermination of fallow deer would allow the natural vegetation and natural animal life to come back to the Island.”

The cull will involve four expert marksmen on the ground, possibly two in a helicopter, shooting as many fallow deer as possible for about 10 days.

Parks Canada says the current fallow deer population is unknown but estimates between 300 and 900.

It’s expected the native black-tailed deer will also be eradicated during this process, but Parks Canada believes this population will return.

“The intention is not to have a deer-free island because we expect the native black-tailed deer to re-establish on Sidney Island. Native black-tail deer are an important part of a balanced native forest ecosystem in this region,” adds Humble.

“We have hope for the future once the fallow deer aren’t there that the natural plant life will come back and be available for our people, and also that the black-tail deer will come back because we know they swim between islands,” adds Pelkey.

Organizations like the Animal Alliance of Canada are questioning how Parks Canada came to the decision and the method they’re using.

“It’s not just our concern on whether killing the deer is ethical, it’s about whether the process that got Parks Canada to eradication as the chosen option was ethical in itself,” says Jordan Reichert, campaign director with the alliance.

“We also believe that it will cause undue suffering and trauma to the deer in the process and alternatives, including immunocontraception, could have been used instead.”

Despite concerns from groups, including some property owners on Sidney Island, the cull is expected to begin sometime in winter.

Hannah LepineHannah Lepine

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