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Deer taking costly toll on hard-hit farmers' fields

Aug 21 2012
Central Saanich farmer Jack Mar says this summer has been his worst-ever growing season for deer damage, suggesting a cull might be the only solution for the region's farmers. 

Central Saanich farmer Jack Mar says this summer has been his worst-ever growing season for deer damage, suggesting a cull might be the only solution for the region's farmers.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

Jack Mar is so fed up with damage deer have wreaked on his Central Saanich farm he's planning to enclose all 12 hectares with a seven-foot-tall fence.

Mar said he has experienced deer damage for the past five years, but this year is the worst yet. No crop is spared: Roaming deer trample plants while munching beans, carrots, beets, peas and raspberries. Mar believes up to eight deer are attacking plants on his property.

As a deer advisory committee appointed in April works on recommendations for the Capital Regional District, some farmers are losing patience.

Mar said culling the deer population may be the only option. "I don't care how the population is reduced," he said. "I can lose a certain amount of [crops] ... but it's getting excessive. We've got to lower the number [of deer]."

Pointing to four rows of strawberry plants, the former Central Saanich mayor said, "We didn't get a pint of berries off there." In May, Mar covered the plants with fabric to protect them, but deer ate through the material, leaving large holes.

"They were all eaten down to the plant," Mar said. With 9,000 strawberry plants, the loss is worth thousands of dollars, he said.

Farmer Murray Sluggett is also impatient for a solution. "There needs to be a control on the population," said the Brentwood Bay farmer, who has noticed damage among lettuce and bean crops at Sluggett Farms.

"It's the most annoying thing, quite honestly.

They're beautiful animals and they wreak havoc," Sluggett said, adding the animals also damage gardens.

He said a subsidy for fencing should be explored, but he's not sure of a permanent solution.

Currently, none of his farm's 23 hectares is enclosed.

"With 58 acres, it's pretty tough to fence that," he said.

At Mar's farm, fences already line two sides of his property, but he wants to enclose all 12 hectares. The fence would cost around $6,000 for materials alone, he said, adding the problem has been getting worse every year. "Years ago, we might find one deer wandering through here."

Walking along the edge of his cornfield, Mar found some chewed cobs and said he's expecting the damage to get worse. "They like it when it's a little more mature," he said. cclancy@timescolonist.com

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