Oak Bay Votes to Kill

Well, the council of the superlative suburb I call home — Oak Bay, British Columbia — just voted to spend $12,500 (Cdn) to “cull” 25 deer in a pilot project between now and 2015. This means trapping the animals in Clover traps and killing them with bolt-guns to the head.

I think this is a crude and ultimately ineffective way to deal with urban deer. This region has thirteen municipalities (13 mayors and councils, folks — think of that!). Not all have chosen this option of deer “management.” Saanich, the largest municipality, adjoins Oak Bay; in fact, the boundary between the two runs through the campus of the University of Victoria. Deer live on the university grounds and in other parts of Saanich, and I doubt that they know where the border is. The 25 animals killed as part of Oak Bay’s pilot project will shortly be replaced from adjoining populations.

Aside from the brutality of the methods used, the thing that bothers me is that other, creative options were not even considered. The only question was whether to have a cull. Why not spend the $12,500 on testing fertility control, monitoring deer movements or setting up a way for gardeners to share information about deer resistant plants and plant protection techniques? Why the big rush to kill, rather than taking time to observe, learn and share information?

I am a keen gardener. My garden has been visited by deer and sustained a certain amount of damage, but really, it’s not the end of the world. Plants recover, or can be replaced. Paying attention and protecting susceptible plants, or setting up simple fencing can make a huge difference.

The issue of deer being hit by cars is a misleading one, as though it’s better to kill the animals with bolt guns before they can be hit by cars. Oak Bay is almost 100% residential, with no high-speed roads. The maximum speed limit is 50 km/hr (30 mph), with many streets having posted speeds of 40 or even 30 km/hr (25 or 20 mph). If people insist on speeding or distracting themselves while driving, you can hardly blame deer for the subsequent collisions. Apropos of this, when a resident wanted to put up a warning sign based on her observations of deer using a certain spot to cross a road, she was told this wasn’t permitted.

Then there’s the trumped up safety issue — savage deer attacking children and pets. If such an incident had occurred within the borders of Oak Bay, you can be sure it would have received maximum publicity, which has not been the case. There are people (such as myself, for example) who are terrified of finding big white grubs when digging in the garden — complete with adrenaline jolt, panicky little dance and running away screaming — but I don’t expect the municipality to start a grub eradication program on my behalf.

Urban deer are here to stay. The sooner we figure out how to live with them, the better. I hate the idea of this cull becoming an issue that pits neighbour against neighbour, leads to demonstrations, letter-writing wars and a divided community. I am distressed at the prospect of Oak Bay becoming known as “that place where they kill deer.”

March 2, 2013

This buck used to hang out in my back garden until I put up some deer netting across his preferred point of entry. I’d rather have him around than guys with bolt guns.

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2 comments

  1. If fencing were not as expensive at it is, more people might opt to use that option rather than the gun. I attended a gardening seminar this morning and it was quite amazing how many times the word “deer” came up. They are definitely the plant people’s worst enemy.

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    1. I bought a 7 x 100 foot plastic mesh fence for less than $30. It’s almost invisible from a distance. In fact, it’s recommended that one attach something to it to alert deer of its presence. I used a 1/4″ rope along the top and pieces of holographic “scare tape” so birds wouldn’t get caught by it. As soon as this fence was in place, deer visits to my back garden stopped. For whatever reason, deer populations are increasing in urban and suburban areas, and we gardeners are going to have to figure out plant selections and protection techniques that work. A perpetual “cull” is a discouraging prospect. And lets face it, for us recreational gardeners, unlike farmers, it’s not a life-and-death matter. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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