The BCSPCA and others are demanding Oak Bay council reverse its decision to allow a deer cull in the district, saying the lethal approach will not end the problem.
Two weeks ago, Oak Bay council voted five to one to sign onto the Capital Regional District’s deer management pilot project, which recommends the culling of up to 25 deer, with the meat, antlers and hooves going to the Songhees First Nations. Coun. Cairine Green was the lone dissenter and Coun. Tara Ney was absent for the vote.
BCSPCA manager of wildlife services Sara Dubois said Oak Bay’s approval for a cull is “misguided” and a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“We’ve heard from a lot of our supporters who are really upset with this deer cull,” Dubois said. “Take the cull off the table and have a conversation with deer management experts.”
BCSPCA CEO Craig Daniell wrote a letter to council in late June, expressing his organization’s opposition to a deer cull in Oak Bay. The letter asked for community consultation on the issue and enforcement of local bylaws as locals are feeding deer, encouraging the animals to stick around and multiply.
Dubois said deer control is under provincial jurisdiction and the province should be dealing with the issue directly. She cited a cull in the interior, where of the 25 deer killed, 11 were the wrong species.
“Responding to wildlife is not something municipalities have experience in or have the support and resources to do,” Dubois said. “It’s an indiscriminate cull. … They have no sense of the deer population.”
The Association for the Protection of Fur Bearing Animals is also against the cull and has launched a letter writing campaign on its website, directing the public to voice their opposition to Oak Bay council.
Executive director Lesley Fox said culls do not work.
“You kill 25 in Oak Bay and 25 from Saanich will just walk in,” Fox said. “This is a total waste of taxpayer money. Redirect the money being spent on the cull to help those specific homeowners who are complaining.”
Fox said the province is to blame for deer overpopulation, as it allowed the indiscriminate killing of wolves, creating the deer imbalance. She said this cull will stain Oak Bay’s reputation.
“It sends a bad message to the community, that animals are disposable,” Fox said. “Part of being a Canadian, and being on the island, is being able to share (your space) with a variety of species and deer is one of them, like it or not.
“This is nature, we are part of it and we live with it.”
The association’s mandate is to protect fur bearing animals such as fox and mink, however the increasing number of deer culls in the province is concerning its members.
“We are really scared this is going to be a pattern,” Fox said. “What’s next? Coyotes, raccoons and maybe the year after that Canada geese?”
Fox was in talks with a number of groups and people about spaying deer with a vaccine called SpayVac. Her organization was exploring the idea of donating $50,000 toward spaying, if it meant no cull. However, she said there are other avenues that residents can take to remove deer from their property. The Association for Fur Bearing Animals, BCSPCA, DeerSafe and Friends of Animals have put together a booklet that will be distributed in Oak Bay to teach people how to live with deer.
Is spaying the answer?
Mark Fraker is a biologist and president of SpayVac for Wildlife Inc. and TerraMar Environmental Research, based in Sidney. He said SpayVac was originally developed at Dalhousie University for the Department of Fisheries and Ocean to spay seal.
Fraker modified the drug, which is derived from pig protein, so it can be used on deer, wild horses and elephants. The drug is a vaccine injected into the animal and preliminary tests have shown that it can prevent pregnancy for up to six years. The life expectancy of deer is typically seven to eight years.
The drug costs $200 per dose and approval must be granted by Health Canada and the province’s wildlife veterinarian. While the approval process is cumbersome, Fraker said it’s not impossible.
“I have experience with the paperwork, it’s not bad,” Fraker said, explaining it would take six months to get all necessary permits in place or sooner if an emergency application is made. “Any vet, under the veterinarian act in the province, has the authority to sign a one page piece of paper to get the drug for emergency use and the federal government will release it.”
The drug is considered experimental as it has not been widely used. However, Fraker has used it in the United States and locally, at CFB Esquimalt and Maple Ridge, with positive results.
“(In Maple Ridge) there were 10 females and they had 12 (fawns). Five years down the road after they were treated, there was only one born instead of 60,” Fraker said. “These are typical results. That was a 50-times reduction in fawns being born.”
The best time to vaccinate deer in Oak Bay would be in the late summer and early fall, when there is shortage of food, likely when the cull would take place as well.
Fraker does not earn royalties from SpayVac sales as it’s owned by a pharmaceutical company. He earns his income as a consultant and on contracts to vaccinate animals with the drug.
Local biologist Rick Page is also a proponent for SpayVac. He said the culling of deer requires trapping the animal and then stunning it in the head with a bolt gun, which does not instantly kill the animal.
“After they get knocked out with a bolt gun, their throats are slit,” Page said. “They are killed by bleeding out. … The deer will be put on a plastic sled to bleed out on instead of the ground.”
Page also said female deer have proven to be territorial in urban surroundings, which makes SpayVac a better option.
“They essentially keep the other does out,” Page said. “It’s the bucks that travel.”
Mayor Nils Jensen said Oak Bay and the Capital Regional District have worked on a deer management plan for two years. He has personally met with various groups and individuals over the years to find a non-lethal solution to dealing with the deer problem and all alternatives have been explored, which is why council finally made the decision to allow a cull.
“It’s not a decision we have taken lightly,” Jensen said. “We have had countless meetings on this issue.”
Jensen said SpayVac was something he was very interested in, but it’s an experimental drug that would be used in conjunction with a research proposal that needs funding, something that has not materialized.
“I don’t think there is enough science behind SpayVac,” Jensen said, adding that council’s biggest concern is public safety, which needs to be addressed now.
“I heard a story about a child who came very close to being trampled on by deer. I have heard of dogs almost getting trampled on. Recently I heard of a cyclist who was struck by a deer and knocked off his bike,” Jensen said. “Our (council’s) responsibility is to deal with those issues in a fair and reasonable manner and that’s what we are doing.”
Jensen also said a deer cull is just one of many things that will be used to manage the deer population.