Two recent letters in the Oak Bay News provide a good opportunity to correct misinformation and provide facts to the Oak Bay community about the management of our indigenous deer population.
Deer birth control is all about effective long-term planning. Culling and translocation have demonstrated time and again that they are not effective in the long term — translocated deer move to the nearest urban centre, creating a problem for those municipalities, while culling can actually result in higher numbers of deer.
Science supports, and experience has demonstrated, that removing large numbers of deer opens a void that is subsequently filled with even more deer — deer outside the cull move in and reproduce at a much higher rate than normal. It’s nature’s built-in survival strategy for many species. In Cranbrook, for example, after four years of culling, the number of deer increased by 36 per cent. Culling is also very expensive financially because it must be repeated annually, and socially. It divides communities and is considered inhumane by animal welfare organizations such as the BC SPCA.
Immunocontraception (IC), on the other hand, stabilizes and gradually reduces the number of deer, avoiding opening up a vacuum for surrounding deer to fill. IC does not have to occur annually after the first few years, which also represents a substantial cost-savings. It has been used successfully on other animals, particularly wild horses.
The provincial permit provides for the IC of up to 80 does in fall 2019. However, with it now scientifically established that there are no more than between 72 to 128 deer in Oak Bay (97 being the median), it is highly unlikely that there will be 80 does to vaccinate. The number on the permit simply allows room for the field team to treat as many does as they can locate.
It is correct that the preliminary progress report (required by the province) only reflects adult deer, as they are of reproductive age. Due to the high mortality rate of fawns, few of this year’s fawns will survive the winter and reach reproductive age. Because few fawns successfully join the adult population, reducing the number of fawns produced through IC, will reduce the number of adults in subsequent years.
The current research project in Oak Bay is not re-inventing the wheel, it’s breaking new ground. It’s the first extensive study on urban deer of its kind that will provide important new information about urban deer ecology that is critical to effective management of the population.
After the cull of 2015, Oak Bay took time to reflect on the process and outcome, resulting in the determination that the current research and non-lethal pilot project of IC was a better way to address deer management in the context of our community values. Oak Bay has demonstrated leadership in this endeavour, through the partnership with expert wildlife biologists and veterinarians, the province and the UWSS. As well, this non-profit, evidence-based volunteer organization will continue to provide information to the community about how best to co-exist with what turned out to be a much smaller, neighbourhood-specific number of deer in our municipality than some concerns had predicted.
Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society