Sidney Island invasive deer eradication now underway: Parks Canada

CHEK

After years of planning and consultation, phase 1 of the invasive deer eradication on Sidney Island is now underway, according to Parks Canada.

European fallow deer were introduced to the Southern Gulf Islands in the early-to-mid-1900s, and are the primary threat to the at-risk Coastal Douglas-fir forest.

Phase 1 of the plan will take place over two weeks, where trained marksmen will conduct aerial and ground-based work to eliminate the deer.

Phase 2 is set to take place between fall 2024 and spring 2025, where temporary fencing will be put up to create enclosed zones and ground-based marksmen paired with scent-tracking dogs will clear the zones.

According to Parks Canada, the deer have stripped the forest on Sidney Island of its native tree seedlings and shrubs.

“This extensive browsing has created ideal conditions for invasive grasses and shrubs like English hawthorn to take over,” Parks Canada says on an information page about the project. “The result is an ecosystem that is missing many native and culturally significant understory plants, is lacking in habitat for songbirds and other wildlife, and is less resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

Since 2018, Parks Canada has met with partners to plan to restore native vegetation and remove invasive plants, eliminate the fallow deer population, and sustainably manage the native black-tailed deer.

Parks Canada says a cull of the deer has been underway since 1981 by allowing hunting, but the population “continually rebounds” despite removing 15,000 of the fallow deer so the population will now be eradicated.

“A cull refers to removing many, but not all, individuals from a population,” Parks Canada says. “Eradication is the complete removal of a population.”

Other methods, including capturing and relocating, surgical sterilization and contraception were considered. Relocation was ruled out as it would just move the problem elsewhere, and both sterilization and contraception were ruled out due to the plans posing “significant feasibility challenges” and that they would only reduce, not eliminate, the population.

During the eradication, Parks Canada says it and First Nations communities have developed and will implement a meat recovery program to recover the meat, hides and other materials to then be distributed in First Nations communities.

Erik Pelkey from the W̱SÁNEĆ Council says once the fallow deer are gone, the eco-system will have a chance to thrive.

“Our people will we have what’s called an environmental committee with the W̱SÁNEĆ leadership council and they will work in co-operation with Parks Canada with the restoration of the Eco-system out there,” said Pelkey.

This eradication has had organizations, like the Animal Alliance of Canada, questioning how Parks Canada came to the decision and the method they’re using.

“It’s a brutal process and one that I think paints a very black eye of Parks Canada,” says Liz White, a director of Animal Alliance of Canada.

For months, advocates have been pushing back against this method, there was even a protest held in Sidney in early November.

There has also been written letters to the federal government urging them to step in and put a pause on the process altogether, or come up with another strategy.

“We know that on an island you can use immuno-contraceptive birth control to actually bring the population down and in fact ultimately eliminate the population without going to these extremes, it just takes a little bit longer and a little more work,” says White.

David Bird, a professor of wildlife biology from McGill University has been a vocal advocate to try and get Parks Canada to pump the breaks on the project. He doesn’t think the eradication plan will work.

“Those fallow deer on the island are really really smart animals. I know for a fact and there not just going to stand there and be shot by somebody from a helicopter or on the ground,” said Bird.

However, Parks Canada says the strategy chosen to solve the problem was not only reviewed and supported by Parks Canada, but also the province. The BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA), which is acting as a neutral observer to the cull, says it also does not oppose the plan.

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-With files from CHEK’s Hannah Lepine

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