Esquimalt is likely to wait another two years before taking any action in deer population management.
At Monday night’s council meeting, council heard from deer management experts including Kristy Kilpatrick from the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS), which has been working for the past three years to help run the pilot immuno-contraceptive (IC) program in Oak Bay.
The UWSS team has been working with experts to analyze the deer population, and began inoculating 60 does in the fall after a year-long delay. In order for the inoculation to happen, the researchers needed permission from local First Nations, a request that had to be put forward by the province. The province took more than a year to complete this task, which allowed the UWSS to further study the migration patterns and demographic trends of the area’s deer population.
The inoculation is a new research project approved by the province as an experimental way to control the deer population after it was discovered that neither culling nor trans-location, the two provincially-approved tactics, were effective measures for managing the population.
“It’s important to remember that deer management is not synonymous with deer reduction,” Kilpatrick said. “The pilot project is multi-layered, complex and provides information never collected before.”
The team used camera traps and GPS collars to keep track of the deer, which also includes 17 control does which were not inoculated.
A combined analysis of the numbers since 2016 found that the Oak Bay deer population was much less than the previously estimated 500, and was actually closer to 100. Of the 100 deer, only one tick carrying Lyme Disease was found.
Now researches must wait until spring to see if the fawning season is affected by the inoculations, and put forward a proper analysis of the results. If it proves effective, the findings will need to be submitted to the province in hopes of being approved as a viable deer management tactic, meaning that at the earliest Esquimalt would be able to apply for the measure in 2022.
Kilpatrick said she wouldn’t recommend that the Township apply to conduct the experiment before the Oak Bay process is complete.
“Until you know if IC is effective, there’s no point in doing it,” she said.
In the meantime, local experts concluded that the deer population in Esquimalt is also less than originally considered. Kevin Pons, project manager for the Esquimalt deer survey, combined three years’ worth of surveys to calculate that the deer population is between 93-125 deer, with the most likely number sitting at 125.
The population, Pons said, has remained “relatively stable” over the past three years, with the largest migration areas including the Gorge Vale Golf Club, the Rock Heights and Parkland areas and the northern part of the Esquimalt Village zone.
CFB Esquimalt has yet to release its most up-to-date report, but numbers were last estimated at 40 deer per square kilometre.
Pons recommended that in the interim between starting inoculation that Esquimalt continue monitoring the populations, as well as set up camera traps and have more public education and signage in areas of higher deer density.
“We will continue to move forward,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. “Around the hotspots we have an opportunity with the Bloom and Beautiful [Garden Tour Event] to create an action around that for gardeners to see if we could target those hot spots, and if would make a difference. So, we can be creative as we wait.”