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Deer decisions prove difficult without data

Jul 29 2012

Making decisions about managing deer in Greater Victoria is almost impossible when there are no accurate population figures, say two former members of the Capital Regional District's deer advisory committee.

Robin Bassett and Kerri Ward resigned this month from the 11-member committee, which will complete its report next month on management options for gardenand crop-munching deer.

Bassett and Ward will not speak to reporters, but, in their letter of resignation, say lack of information on populations and the amount of agricultural and residential damage caused by deer are among the problems.

"Estimates for number of deer in the CRD vary wildly; as no scientific counts have ever been conducted, all guesses are based on anecdotal information," the letter says.

"It is difficult to make recommendations for management options when the amount of deer in agricultural, rural or residential areas is unknown."

Provincial estimates for 2011 of the number of deer on Vancouver Island range from 45,000 to 65,000. That is the same as the 2008 population estimates.

The figures are taken from extrapolating the number of deer in backcountry, not urban, areas, said Forests Ministry spokesman Brennan Clarke.

"Biologists really don't know whether the numbers are stable in the forest, but growing in the city," Clarke said. "Maybe predators in the forest are doing their job, but predators are shot when they come into the city."

Although deer numbers for Vancouver Island are largely anecdotal and based on hunter surveys, there is no doubt that the population is doing well, Clarke said.

The committee is looking at options ranging from fencing to culling, and CRD chairman Geoff Young said this week it is unlikely there will be one solution.

Opposition is developing to lethal deer-control methods, and Susan Vickery of the Earth Animal Humane Education and Rescue Society said she hopes to present a report to the CRD soon.

Vickery, who runs a sanctuary in Coombs for rescued former University of Victoria rabbits, said fencing works to keep deer out of gardens and crops, and government subsidies are available in agricultural areas.

"This is a people problem, not a deer problem. There are people who have tolerance for them and people who don't," she said.

"There's a people-expansion problem."

The Animal Alliance of Canada has also prepared a report on Developing a Progressive NonLethal Human/Deer Conflict Resolution Strategy for B.C.

Meanwhile, the resignation letter from Bassett and Ward says CRD taxpayers could be faced with costly court challenges because of the "deeply problematic process" being used to develop the strategy.

"A report based on subjective guessing, anecdotal information, a poorly formulated survey, nonrepresentation of all points of view and lack of key stakeholder participation (First Nations) will, we feel, produce unreliable results ripe for dispute by CRD residents," the letter says.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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