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Deer cull on CRD radar for 2012

Dec 27 2011

Revamping complex documents, finding consensus among 13 disparate municipalities, trying to get both the federal and provincial government to commit funding for sewage treatment — that's the easy stuff for the Capital Regional District board in 2012.

Well, easy when compared to the other major issue staring at the board — how to deal with the number of deer in the region.

Board chairman Geoff Young never says the word "cull" in a year-end interview, but it's clear the board will have to decide whether to have a limited one.

"We will have to make some decision, even if it is to do nothing," Young said. "I suspect we will be forced to make a decision to take some action. I'm pretty sure we're going to be moving forward — and I'm pretty sure it will be controversial and that we won't have agreement."

When asked directly if the CRD will consider a cull, Young said: "It appears that is the direction we are being led toward."

Several other municipalities in the province have instituted limited culls, including Cranbrook and Kimberley. Cranbrook has permits to trap and euthanize 25 deer this winter. The deer are trapped in a large net structure, and then killed the same way livestock are. The meat is donated as food.

It's estimated there are about 50,000 deer on Vancouver Island, with more lazily roaming urban areas than in the past.

ICBC data show deer-related motor-vehicle collisions in CRD municipalities have increased by an average of 13 per cent a year since 2000, growing to more than 100 collisions in 2010 from 35 reported in 2000. Provincewide, animal-related insurance claims rose to $30.8 million in 2007 from $15.8 million in 1997. Biologists say urban deer are thriving and reproducing.

The issue of a limited cull has been brought up at CRD meetings by former Central Saanich mayor Jack Mar, who has seen farmers' crops decimated in an afternoon by deer.

It's a hot-button issue for board members and the public. After one news story about the deer problem, the CRD received more than 400 unsolicited emails and letters. Public consultation will be a part of the decision-making process, Young said.

After that, drawing up a new regional sustainability strategy — basically the overall development plan for the entire region — might seem easy.

The strategy will be the new version of the current regional growth strategy, adopted in 2003. The strategy is defined as an agreement on social, economic and environmental goals for the region. It defines where development and growth should happen.

The CRD is revamping the document this year and renaming it the Regional Sustainability Strategy. It will reflect the goals of each municipality, and all must agree on it for it to be adopted. "I suspect we will indeed see some good debate," Young said.

Conflicts between the regional plan and individual municipal community plans happened several times in 2011. Part of that conflict is the result of imprecise language in the current document, Young said.

"The language of the document doesn't specify the precise nature of every kind of development that could take place. It tends to be more general. As we go forward, people will be more aware of the potential for future conflict, and there will be an effort made to be more precise and to lay down in more exact terms where developments will and will not take place," Young predicted.

Secondary sewage treatment remains in limbo, although Young hopes that will change early in the new year. The provincial government mandated treatment of the region's sewage, which is currently shot out into the ocean via pipes. The CRD has worked on developing a plan for years, submitting its final plan last year to the province. It was approved, but the funding hasn't come through.

The project is estimated to cost $782 million, to be shared equally among the CRD, the province and the federal government. But the province is saying the feds must commit first. Federal officials say that was never the expectation or an established practice.

"Putting it bluntly," Young said, "the provincial government is in a budget crunch and they're finding it difficult. We're not in a position where we can start doing any design work or anything else without that funding."

kwestad@timescolonist.com

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