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Opinion: We need to learn to co-exist with deer

Oct 05 2012

We have been told there is a "deer problem" in the Capital Regional District and that apparently the "cultural carrying capacity" has been exceeded.

A citizens advisory group recently submitted recommendations to the CRD, which will deliberate on the issue after consulting with the municipalities and the provincial government. As a result, we may soon have sharpshooters, bow hunters and clover traps set up in agricultural, rural and even urban areas starting next spring.

How could all of this happen? Basically, the CRD received a few hundred letters of complaint from residents and from a few farmers who demanded action to protect their crops.

Deer population trends from the Ministry of Environment are inaccurate, and deer-collision statistics from the Insurance Corporation of B.C. are inconclusive. The advisory group admits in its 165-page report that the evidence is anecdotal and that no reliable data are available.

Despite the obvious lack of objective evidence, the advisory group decided that there is a significant increase in deer-human conflict, and recommended the CRD implement a series of lethal options against our deer.

How could the CRD come to that conclusion? The two members who resigned from the committee speak of an "irretrievably flawed" and biased process. The advisory group, which included farmers and even a bow hunter, was heavily unbalanced in its composition and markedly favoured pro-cull solutions during its 14 meetings. Given these premises, the outcome could not have been any different.

Unlike biological carrying capacity, which has a precise scientific basis, the cultural carrying capacity is a made-up concept which has nothing to do with biology and objective science, and everything to do with human intolerance. In fact, it is simply defined as the number of deer or other animal species humans are willing to tolerate in the community. As such, it is a threshold that is obviously dependent on many subjective factors unrelated to the health and status of the animal population.

It is claimed that this threshold has been exceeded in the case of the deer; however, this conclusion is arbitrary and unscientific.

This philosophy is dangerous in that it could result in a spiral of unnecessary killings. Who's next after the deer population is reduced to an "acceptable" and "natural" level, as recommended by the advisory group? Any other animal species could be targeted at any time by applying similar criteria. All that is needed is that the "cultural carrying capacity" is exceeded, and we know now how easy that is.

We have had deer in our backyard since we moved to Saanich 17 years ago, and we don't mind at all. In fact, we enjoy their presence and accept it as part of living in this part of the world. Yes, they eat some plants and flowers. Is this a sufficient reason for wanting them slaughtered?

Farmers should take responsibility and invest in fencing to protect their crops and minimize losses like any other businesses, possibly with the help of provincial subsidies. There are many efficient alternatives to lethal options that, on the other hand, have been shown not to work, require a perpetual cycle of killing and are inefficient.

It seems that some residents of the CRD have lost their tolerance and ability to co-exist with our wildlife. This is of great concern to me, as the very foundation of life in our province and on Vancouver Island has always included nature, our forests and our wild animals.

Nabhraj R. Spogliarich is a Saanich resident.

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