There’s growing frustration among numerous farmers on Vancouver Island because of elk herds.
Elk populations have rebounded from the dangerously low levels of decades past but their increasing numbers are putting pressure on farmers.
And some say the province needs to do more.
On Misty Valley Farm south of Nanaimo, 33 elk are making themselves at home. They’ve been here two months so far.
“I get so frustrated I just don’t know what to do,” said Howie Davis, the farm’s owner.
It’s a difficult thing for farmer Davis to watch. This past year, he spent $14,000 just on seeds for his grass and hay fields.
The fields are where his 125 cows are supposed to graze.
“If you go out there you see the big holes they (the elk) put in the ground. You walk over here you see where they knocked the fences down coming back and forth.”
After 57 years, Davis says the elk have only started showing up during the last three. He says the number of elk in the herd is higher in each of those years and they left for the hills in early February last year.
Davis says provincial rules prohibit him from shooting them or even scaring them off with motorized vehicles. He says they haven’t done anything when he’s called the BC government.
“The animals are their responsibility because they won’t allow me to do anything with them so take your animals and take them where they belong. Get them off my property,” said Davis.
Farmers say it’s becoming a more significant issue in the Cowichan Valley too.
“If these kinds of challenges carry on we’re going to see more and more people leaving the industry because it’s a battle that we’re not winning. We’re never going to win this battle,” said Ken Ellison, of Dellison Farm. He’s also the Vice President of the Vancouver Island Cattleman’s Association.
Ellison says there is a herd of close to 90 elk that has been on his farm on a regular basis lately. Here too the elk have damaged fences and fields.
“I don’t really know what the solution is but we definitely need to thin the herd. The herd is growing way too fast,” said Ellison.
The Association believes the elk population is much larger on Vancouver Island than the estimates.
The BC Wildlife Federation says the elk herd is around 4,500 on Vancouver Island and it’s a success story considering the population was nearly wiped out a hundred years ago. It says the province is trying to reach a balance.
“We’ve increased the hunting allocations so there are more people out hunting and able to harvest elk. The ministry has also collared some elk to understand better how they move across the landscape so we can hopefully relieve some of the degradation pressures that some of the agricultural producers are facing mid-island,” said Jesse Zeman, Federation’s Executive Director.
Fencing is also an option but costly and can cause increased problems in unfenced areas. Davis said he’d be willing to fence his property if the province paid for the materials.
BC’s Forests Ministry says “while generally, wildlife staff are not proponents of erecting fencing, fencing is the only solution to completely exclude elk from a given area.” The province has several webpages about controlling ungulate conflicts, which includes elk. BC’s Environment Ministry declined a request for an interview.