In 2010, Animal Alliance and the Animal Protection Party were contacted by residents in BC whose communities were facing possible deer culls. Five communities actually conducted culls: Oak Bay (Victoria) and Elkford (east Kootenays) each conducted one cull; Kimberley, two; and Cranbrook and Invermere being the most persistent communities conducting multiple culls. The municipalities set and bait clover traps overnight and kill the trapped deer by shooting a captive bolt gun to the animal’s head. Black-tailed deer were killed in Oak Bay and mule deer were killed in the other municipalities.
In 2016, Animal Alliance released video footage of a fawn caught and killed in the cull (video: WARNING – some viewers may find the footage disturbing). As a result of a community complaint, we were able to obtain a photo of two fawns caught in a collapsed trap. Both incidents were reported to the Minister of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) and Cranbrook Council.
Both incidents illustrate the fact that culls don’t work. The three documented animals were fawns and therefore not considered “problems” by the communities conducting the culls. These animals died because they were unfortunate enough to be caught in a trap.
Animal Alliance, with the support of local communities, opposed all the culls. As a result, of the five municipalities only two, Cranbrook and Invermere, continue to actively pursue the lethal approach.
Animal Alliance decided to commission McCrory Wildlife Services to carry out an indpependent review of the provincial and municipal governments’ handling of the urban deer-human conflicts, including the effectiveness of lethal culls and translocations in addressing issues raised by some residents in the five communities regarding urban deer:
Below is an excerpt of the general findings and recommendations:
In 2010, due to increasing concerns and complaints about urban deer being made by various municipal governments, the Ministry of Environment commissioned a report titled British Columbia urban ungulate conflict analysis (Hesse 2010). One of the conclusions was that:
Most management plans for ungulates causing concern in British Columbia’s urban environment are more than 20 years old and contain few, if any, references to challenges encountered or proposed solutions for managing these wildlife species in urban environments.
Hesse also reviewed case studies in Magrath, Alberta (controlled quota hunt report) and Sidney Island, British Columbia (capture-and-euthanize project), as well as in Helena, Montana (capture and-euthanize project). Hesse (2010) provided a summary of urban ungulate issues for some communities. While identifying significant information gaps, the Hesse report provided what could be considered a fair scientific background review and some evidence-based standards embedded in management recommendations for municipalities to follow, should they implement urban deer management/control programs. As a result, and with the assistance of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) at both the Victoria and East Kootenay levels, the District of Oak Bay and four communities in the East Kootenays (Kimberley, Invermere, Cranbrook, and Elkford) subsequently began urban deer management programs that, on the surface, were guided by local committees. In all instances, the local government councils elected to move forward with lethal cull programs modelled after one carried out in Helena, Montana.
On April 18 and 19, 2012, the Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology convened a conference in Cranbrook on urban wildlife challenges and management and published the proceedings, which are available online. We reviewed the proceedings and found they included a number of very informative presentations relevant to urban deer issues that have, unfortunately, largely been ignored in the five urban deer case studies we reviewed. The proceedings report (Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology 2012) includes an excellent presentation by Harris and Kuzyk (2012) on the ecology, herd behaviour, and reproduction of mule deer and white-tailed deer as it pertains to urban deer situations. Subsequently, in our five case study reviews, we found no evidence where herd/social behaviour and, in particular, reproduction rates (annual increments/total mortality) were factors adequately included where culls were implemented.
At the Cranbrook conference, Hall (2012) provided a critical review of the Ministry of Environment’s British Columbia Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis Summary for Municipalities (2010). We are in agreement with his findings, which also went largely ignored by provincial biologists in charge of the urban deer management program. According to Hall, the provincial ungulate conflict analysis:
…summarizes the current state of urban wildlife conflict management in different jurisdictions throughout North America, describes the legal context for urban wildlife management in BC, and recommends management options for communities to consider. However, these guidelines fail to demonstrate an integral way of solving conflicts at the community-level using a formal and structured approach to solving these types of problems. Even the Ministry of Environment’s Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis Summary (2010) report perpetuates this myth by recommending communities ‘get at the root cause.’ In fact, there is no such thing as a single root cause to any problem, and relying on paradigms such as this typically leads to failure for problem solvers. The Ministry’s Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis report (2010) perpetuates the pitfall of judging solutions by their [financial] cost (i.e., ‘expensive option’) in absence of a comparison against the total cost of a defined problem, the risks associated with its recurrence, and the options available to a community to amortize the cost over an acceptable period of time.
The next political stage of policy development/implementation of urban deer management in BC occurred in January 2015, when an urban deer workshop was delivered through collaboration with the provincial government and the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) at Richmond, BC.
The workshop decreed the establishment of a Provincial Urban Deer Advisory Committee (PUDAC), the purpose of which would be to provide consistent and authoritative support to all local governments in BC that contend with urban deer conflict (Provincial Urban Deer Committee Terms of Reference – FNR-2015-53558). PUDAC involves the collaboration of provincial government staff with local municipalities and other shareholders, and will provide funds for managing urban deer. Per the program plan for the Provincial Urban Deer Operational Cost Share Program, MFLNRO will provide up to $100,000 in cost-share funding per year. The funds are to be used to help communities with approved deer management plans and defray costs of managing urban deer populations through culling, capture, and research in an effort to mitigate risks and negative impacts to communities (people) where urban deer are an issue (NRS1407 Government Transfer – Shared Cost Agreement # SCA 16FHQ275-01 – SCHEDULE A– SERVICES). An application and standardised project plan is required to be submitted by local governments for PUDAC evaluation and approval.
The annual $100,000 funding provided by MFLNRO was stipulated to be for use by local municipalities in the following ways:
• Operational Activities: direct management activities (e. g., trap-and-kill programs), research trials, anti-deer structures (e. g., fencing or cattle guards)
• Equipment purchase (e. g., traps)
• Development of communications materials that can be used province-wide
The program plan for the Provincial Urban Deer Operational Cost Share Program states that Culling operations in the interior of BC will be supported at a rate of $200.00 for each deer that is culled. In BC coastal areas, $300 will be provided by MFLNRO for each deer killed. The support is intended to cover approximately 50% of the operational costs associated with culling. Costshare management activities will be capped at $20,000 per local government per year.
The plan for this cost-share program does not specify the species of deer for the financial subsidy, nor is a target demographic outlined (e.g., adult does), however, it is possible that these objectives may be listed within an individual municipality’s plan it submits to access the required permit and request provincial funds (Program Plan for the Provincial Urban Deer Operational Cost Share Program -FNR-2015-53558). For each municipal project, the requirements for standardized monitoring and reporting (as established by the provincial government) must also be fulfilled.
A most interesting document is the province’s response to the UBCM workshop’s extensive recommendations (dated Sept. 23, 2015 and found online at: http://www.ubcm.ca/assets/Resolutions~and~Policy/Policy/Environment/Provincial Response to UBCM Urban Deer Recommendations.pdf). This document is a must-read for anyone hoping to understand the complex bureaucratic structure, politics, guidelines, and legislative rules and restrictions concerning lethal and non-lethal options involved.
The funding objectives for 2016/2017 appear to have modified to include First Nations and to allow for research projects. Again, this funding is available from the joint UBCM/province Urban Deer Cost Share Program to help local governments or First Nations with up to $100,000 to address urban deer management challenges through operational or research projects. The Program is intended to support ‘shovel ready’ projects that are consistent with community-based planning processes. There is a list of guidelines including that if it is a research project it must be scientifically rigorous [click here].
Given the past history of the BC urban deer management program, where our conclusions are that very little scientific rigour was applied to background justification concerning the efficacy of lethal control programs as well as in quantifying the results with a sound database and credible evaluation process, one has to ask: What scientific oversight will there be for the new joint UBCM/provincial Urban Deer Cost Share Program? Who will have that oversight responsibility?