How lucky are we?!

How lucky are we?!

Alina Fisher, BSc MA (Comms) PMP, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Victoria, was the most recent recipient of the Dr. Ian and Joyce McTaggart Cowan Scholarship in Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. Alina has an extensive background in wildlife biology, ecology, and science communication, coupled with an incredible sense of compassion and empathy for wildlife, urban and otherwise.

Alina left Romania in her early childhood, and in an interview with The Nature Trust of British Columbia, she movingly describes her connection to nature and wildlife as the “constant” among much upheaval and uncertainty.

The UWSS is so fortunate to have Alina working with us.  She has guided our public education and communications with a compassionate, measured, and even hand; always listening to and respecting multiple perspectives.  We are excited for Alina as she pursues her Ph.D., and are grateful for her expertise. She has been instrumental in helping communities have a better understanding of the role, and need, for urban wildlife.

Coming soon: slower (and safer) streets in the CRD

Coming soon: slower (and safer) streets in the CRD

In recent months, Victoria and Saanich Councils have both approved applying to the provincial government for a three-year pilot project to reduce the default speed limit on their side streets (streets without centre lines) to 30 km/h from the current 50 km/h. The project will provide data to inform longer-term decisions about appropriate vehicle speeds in urban areas.

Research elsewhere has demonstrated that slower streets are safer, more livable streets for everyone—pedestrians, cyclists, children, dogs and cats, and urban wildlife, like deer, reducing both the number and severity of collisions with vehicles.

It’s a growing trend in cities around North America, including Vancouver and Toronto. According to research cited by the District of Saanich’s Engineering Department, when a vehicle is travelling at 30 km/h or less the probability of a road user surviving a collision with a motorist is nine out of 10, versus a  survival rate of only two in 10 when the vehicle is travelling at 50 km/h or more.

In Toronto, a speed limit reduction on residential streets from 40 km/h to 30 km/h resulted in 28%  fewer collisions, and fatalities or serious injuries dropped by 67%.

Kudos to Victoria and Saanich Councils for taking this significant step toward safety. The municipalities represent more than half the population of this region.

And now Oak Bay Council has also signed on for 30km/h speed limits on side streets!

If you would like to order a sign, please contact us.

Esquimalt, Sidney, Central Saanich and North Saanich were all ready to join a 40 km/h regional pilot last fall when Saanich proposed it but subsequently Saanich Council shifted to a lower speed target when residents asked for a more ambitious approach to safety.

Here’s hoping that those municipalities follow Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay for a 30 km/h side street speed limit in their communities, too, because slower really is safer for all of us, no matter where we live in this wonderful region

Camera thefts threaten innovative deer project

Camera thefts threaten innovative deer project

A series of thefts of vital research equipment in Oak Bay threatens the ground-breaking urban deer management project. Since early December, 13 specialized wildlife cameras out of the 39 associated with the project have been stolen from locations around the municipality. The cameras play an important role in the project that is aimed at managing the indigenous urban deer population in Oak Bay by collecting data that attests, over time, to the density, movement patterns, population size and habits of Oak Bay deer. 

The three-year initiative, a partnership between the District of Oak Bay and the Greater Victoria-based Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS), is using an immunocontraceptive (IC) to trial the humane and effective reduction of the municipality’s indigenous Columbian black-tailed deer population. It is funded by Oak Bay and the Province of BC’s Provincial Urban Deer Cost-Share Program. The project is currently at the halfway mark.

The immunocontraception approach reduces the number of fawn births each year in a way that does not open up territory for new deer to move in and replace them the way population culls do. If successful, the project will make available a new community-based approach to urban deer management to communities throughout North America.  The project is endorsed by the BC SPCA. 

Preliminary results indicate that the application of IC to 60 does in the Fall of 2019 has significantly reduced the deer birth rate in Oak Bay in its first year.  Data from the cameras is critical to proving, up to scientific research standards, the success of the project. 

The 13 cameras, Bushnell Model 119876C [See photo below], are owned jointly by Oak Bay and the UWSS. The 13, stolen mainly from public property, are valued at a total of approximately $4,000. Nine were stolen in the first half of December and another four since then. The scale, breadth and timing of the thefts, along with the specific locations chosen, suggests a targeted campaign rather than a series of random acts.

Oak Bay Police are investigating. Residents who have observed individuals removing tree-mounted cameras from property or associated activity from early December to present, particularly on public property, or who may have security camera footage, are asked to contact OBPD at (250) 592-2424. Anyone who has come across the sale or donation of Bushnell wildlife cameras since December or in the future should also contact Oak Bay Police. 

About the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS):

Chief scientist for the project is Dr. Jason Fisher, one of Canada’s leading wildlife ecologists. The project manager is Sandra Frey, MSc, an expert in evaluating the impacts of human-wildlife interactions. Project veterinarian is Dr. Adam Hering.

The UWSS is a non-profit society with the long-term goal of conflict reduction between humans and free-living urban animals through science-based and humane population management through research and education.

Media Contact: 

Kristy Kilpatrick, President, UWSS, 250-213-8733

Lyme Disease and the Black-Tailed Deer on southern Vancouver Island

Lyme Disease and the Black-Tailed Deer on southern Vancouver Island

By Lynette Browne, DVM

Do you want to know about Lyme disease and the risk of getting this disease from ticks?  For many of us that migrate here from Eastern Canada, we hear a lot more about Lyme disease as it is much more prevalent there, and actually on the increase.  However, here in B.C., the rate of Lyme disease in humans remains consistently very low at less than 1% in adults (<0.5/100,000 population).

The ticks that transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, fall into two main categories, Ixodes pacificus (Western Black-Legged Tick) on the West Coast of North America, and Ixodes scapularis (Black-Legged Tick) in the Northeastern U.S.A. and Canada. Unlike in Eastern Canada, the rate of Lyme disease remains low in B.C. for several main reasons:

  1. The prevalence of B. burgdorferi in ticks in B.C. has remained consistently low over time, with less than 1% of ticks tested carrying the bacteria. This is different than the Eastern portion of N. America where Lyme disease rates in both ticks and humans have increased over time along with climate change.
  2. The Western Black-Legged Tick are less capable of carrying B. burdorferi than the Black-Legged Tick in Eastern Canada and the U.S.A.
  3. The animals on which Ixodes ticks feed are different. In B.C., the ticks primarily feed on small rodents such as deer mice and dusky-footed woodrat. In Eastern Canada and the U.S.A., the ticks feed on white-footed mice and white-tailed deer.
  4. The vegetation and climate are different between B.C. and Eastern Canada (e.g. B.C. has mostly coniferous forests, whereas Eastern North Amercia has mostly leafy forests).
  5.  Despite Ixodes ticks being present throughout southern and central B.C., including in most of the highly-populated areas, an expansion of the range of these ticks, which could occur with climate change, would not greatly increase the number of people exposed in B.C. since the expansion of the range would be to less-populated areas.
Black-legged (deer) tick. Photo from pestworld.org

To sum it up, the risk of Lyme disease in B.C. is lower and more stable than it is in Eastern Canada and in the Northeastern U.S.A.

That said, it is always important to protect yourself from being bitten by ticks, especially while out hiking. Check out the BCCDC website for more information.

Out of concern for Lyme disease, some people have asked about the number of ticks seen on deer through the course of our research project. During the UWSS’s deer contraception project, there were very rare instances of ticks seen on the deer that were handled. In fact, none were seen during the latest Fall of 2020 portion of the project. So, though deer management is on the mind of many people in Greater Victoria, at least the risk of Lyme disease does not need to be part of the concern.

Camera thefts threaten innovative deer project

A few updates as we start the New Year

As 2021 has begun, we’re wishing everyone a safe and healthy start to the New Year!

Hunkering down

With the darker, wetter days and nights, you may feel that you’re seeing fewer deer…the official term for that appears to be “hunkering down”! Like us, deer tend to look for warm, dry shelter where their needs can be met, and as a result they seem to be less visible.

Watch for deer crossing

We’re glad to note that some actually are a bit safer when crossing the road – 60 does that received their IC in the Fall all have reflective tape on their identification ear tags, and we’ve heard that they are quite visible in headlights.

Theft of wildlife cameras

Sadly, in the first couple of weeks of December, nine of the wildlife cameras collecting data on urban deer in Oak Bay were stolen.  The cameras were all on public land with permission from Oak Bay and are the property of Oak Bay and the UWSS.  If you saw someone removing a camera from its location (likely a tree), please report to the Oak Bay Police (250-592-2424).

Injured buck recovering

You may have seen a recent photo in the newspaper of a majestic buck with an arrow in its side, just behind its right foreleg. The suffering buck had been shot, likely in Oak Bay, with a crossbow, clearly with the intent to kill. 

Thankfully, a number of people reported the injured deer to the Conservation Service, and with the help of UWSS past president Bryan Gates and our wildlife veterinarian Dr. Adam Hering, they were able to locate the buck and successfully remove the arrow. The arrow just missed the buck’s heart but when last seen appeared to be doing quite well.

It is illegal to hunt within urban boundaries.  As well, urban deer eat many plants that have pesticides on them and the meat is unfit to eat.  As well, does that have been given immuno-contraception have a small, yellow provincial tag in one ear that identifies them as unfit for meat. If you see anyone attempting to hunt within urban boundaries, or you see an injured deer, please call the Conservation RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277 or #7277 on Telus mobility.

White-tailed deer in boreal landscapes

White-tailed deer in boreal landscapes

The native deer species here in greater Victoria is the Columbian black-tailed deer. But our lead scientist Jason Fisher and colleague Cole Burton have a new paper in the journal Ecology and Evolution on white-tailed deer in north-eastern Alberta.

They found that oil and gas features play a key role in sustaining the expansion of white-tailed deer northward into boreal landscapes. The infographic, right, explains the key findings of the paper.

Original research paper: Spatial structure of reproductive success infers mechanisms of white-tailed deer invasion of boreal landscapes. http://buff.ly/2KEMMJT

Marking the end of 2020

Marking the end of 2020

Since our last blog post, we successfully completed our second season of immuno-contraception (IC)!  Thanks to all of you who engaged in citizen science and helped us with locating the elusive does who needed vaccinating – almost all received their booster meaning that between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020, 120 does were successfully vaccinated!

One of our Wanted posters, to help us find does for IC. Thank you to everyone that called!

Thanks as well to our many supporters in the community and beyond—our field team answered many questions, and were even cheered on from balconies as they professionally, efficiently, and compassionately handled the does.

On October 31 we completed our fieldwork for this fall and our permit expired. Since then, the UWSS and Oak Bay applied to the Provincial funding program (PUDAC) for 2021 funding in order to continue collecting and analyzing data, to prepare for report writing (also to be published in peer-reviewed journals), and cover the costs of boosting both 2019 and 2020 does in the Fall of 2021. 

We are happy to report that the funding was approved, and we look forward to carrying on this important research project.  We know there are many communities and municipalities looking forward to accessing the extensive knowledge of urban deer that we have been collecting and seeing immuno-contraception becoming an operational solution.

If you have any questions, please reach out to us at info@uwss.ca

Time for a boost!

Time for a boost!

We’ve been busy giving immuno-contraception (IC) to the does in Oak Bay. Each doe gets an initial dose, and then a booster a few weeks later. That means that we need to give boosers to the does treated with IC this year (which is about 60 “new” does) and to last year’s IC-treated deer. And good news, we’ve gotten nearly half of the boosters done already! But since the IC vaccination needs to be completed prior to the start of the rut, we need your help finding the does that still need their booster.

The list of does needing boosters can be found here. That list includes the tag number, tag colour and collar colour (if she has a collar), and the general location where she was originally found.

If you spot one of the does listed in the spreadsheet, above, between 7am and 2pm, please call our wildlife veterinarian, Adam, at (250) 880-7263.

Compassionate conservation — yes even for rats and raccoons

Compassionate conservation — yes even for rats and raccoons

by Anne Drummond

In mid-June, the Saanich municipality voted to discontinue the use of anticoagulant rodenticides in all of their facilities. The motivation for discontinuing the use of these highly toxic rodenticides was evidence that owls, raccoons, and other wildlife were also being killed by ingesting poisoned rodents. Mayor Haynes is hoping that Saanich will be setting an example to inspire other municipalities to follow suit.

While the Saanich Council is to be applauded for this humane decision, nonetheless the alternatives to rat poison still remain lethal and in the long term do nothing to change the rat/human conflict.

Rats, and mice, are intelligent, devoted parents and loyal spouses, do they really deserve the death penalty for simply trying to get on in a challenging world? It seems that it is easier to use lethal methods to control animals than for humans to change their behaviour;  because in the end, all human-animal conflict is about habitat destruction—we humans are taking way more than our fair share of available resources.

A United Nations report released in 2019 reveals that at least a million plant and animal species will be extinct within decades, this, the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event can be squarely laid in the hands of mankind. The major factors responsible for the decline of species are habitat destruction and climate change.

Traditional conservation focusses on selected species and populations without considering the well being of individual animals or the ethics involved. The North American model of conservation in particular has a rather egregious track record of the mass killing of one species to preserve another species which is considered to be of greater value to humans. For example, the BC wolf cull, the killing of seals and birds accused of diminishing fish stocks, and the controversial goose cull in Denver CO, to name but a few. These strategies have not only ignored the wider effects on communities and ecosystems but paid no attention to the suffering of individuals involved in the cull. As we move deeper into the Anthropocene and an increasing rate of extinction we need another way to manage human-wildlife conflict.

Compassionate conservation recognizes that all animals are sentient beings and aims to protect Earth’s biodiversity while treating individual animals with respect and concern for their welfare. Following the guiding principles of: do no harm, individuals matter, inclusivity, and peaceful coexistence. No matter whether a species is rare or not, of value to humans or not, native or not,  all animals have intrinsic value. Compassionate conservation offers a different approach to how we deal with animals in the light of what we know and continue to learn about the cognitive and emotional capacities of other animals.  Furthermore, it is increasingly acknowledged that the health and welfare of humans are closely connected to the welfare of animals and the environment we all need in order to survive.

The daily activities of humans—in our homes, agriculture, parks, and cities—cause considerable harm to wildlife. Less well known is the harm to wildlife in the name of conservation via culling, trapping, relocation, or captivity. Culling/killing wildlife is not a scientifically proven way to manage wildlife populations. In many instances and in particular among urban wildlife, as you kill individuals others will move into the vacated opportunity—this is what keeps pest control companies in business!

 Killing animals causes suffering and pain and young pups/nestlings/fawns may die when their parents do not return to feed them. Furthermore killing individuals destabilizes groups and communities. This is an important point because a stable family group or community is more amenable to behaviour modification thus making coexistence more feasible.

Yes, that rat/raccoon in your garden may be a nuisance, but before you consider lethal control ask yourself the following questions. Is it:

  1. Justified: in other words are you sure there is a problem (the simple presence of an animal does not equate with it being a problem), is it the right thing to do or might there be other less harmful solutions, is it really reasonable to kill an animal simply for being in your garden?
  2. Humane: can you kill this animal without causing excessive pain and suffering, or could you find a non-lethal solution, do you feel sympathy for the animal, can you generate kindness and attempt peaceful coexistence?
  3. Effective: will killing this animal have the desired effect?

So after considering those questions perhaps now you’re not ready to kill the rat in your garden, having decided that it is innocent until proven guilty—but nonetheless you are wary about this idea of peaceful coexistence.

Yes rodents and raccoons can cause structural damage, yes they are capable of carrying bacteria and viruses but the simple presence of these animals does not necessarily mean harm and disease are guaranteed. In principle, any animal can carry a disease that humans could catch but in reality, 99.999% of pathogens carried by animals will not infect people. By comparison, 60% of all human pathogens can infect animals. If your interactions with animals involve little more than feeding the dog, putting seeds out for birds, and shooing away the squirrels you are unlikely to contract a zoonotic infection—walking into a hospital or a doctor’s office is far riskier.

Peaceful coexistence involves tolerance and understanding and both parties’ needs being met. Accepting that we play a role in human-wildlife conflicts is a big start, so keep your home secure—check for gaps where animals may enter your roof/walls, and keep branches off your roof to limit access to attics,  windows, and vents. Look for greasy, smudgy rub marks which indicate routes used by rodents—disrupt these routes by cleaning with bleach, but also use them as indicators to the ways they may be getting into your house or shed. Rats and raccoons respond to hazing, so bang pots to make loud noises, squirt them with water, be a crazy banshee. Don’t leave piles of junk around as these are prime real estate for rats and raccoons, and don’t leave dog food or cat food outside—that is literally a gilt-edged dinner invitation. Basically, if you limit the food and shelter opportunities in your garden rodents are less likely to make a home there. That said, rodents are everywhere and if you can accept their presence at a distance, then just leave them be.

These are difficult times and animal populations are as stressed as we are; COVID-19, climate change, the state of the economy, political upheaval-  it takes its toll on all the Earth’s inhabitants. We as individuals here in Victoria may not be able to bring about global change but we can start with our own hearts and practice more compassion and respect for all the sentient beings that we share the planet with.

Tweens of all species

Tweens of all species

Humans aren’t the only species whose “tweens” that are itching for more independence but perhaps lack a bit of experience. Tween fawns aren’t much different.

While young fawns tend to stay close to mom, as they get a little older they start to become a little more independent.

“We really encourage drivers and cyclists to be mindful all the time, but now especially to be a little more cautious – when you see a doe walk out, a fawn or two will often follow behind, it just may take a little longer to see them now,” explains Kristy Kilpatrick, President of the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society.

UWSS is working with the Township of Esquimalt on deer management, in addition to undertaking a research and deer contraception program in Oak Bay.

“There really can be quite a distance between the doe and fawn, so cars that have slowed down for the doe think the coast is clear; as they begin to accelerate, the fawn jumps out to follow its mother.”

Be especially vigilant around dawn and dusk, when deer tend to be more active and when it’s more difficult to see them. Headlights can also confuse deer, causing them to freeze or act unpredictably. To reduce your chance of colliding with a deer, slow down and scan ahead, particularly in areas deer are known to frequent.

Residents can help spread awareness that deer are in the neighbourhood by picking up a free lawn sign from the Township of Esquimalt or by contacting the UWSS, Kilpatrick says.

And because deer see dogs as a threat—no matter how well behaved or small your dog—keep Fido leashed and walking close to you to prevent unwanted interactions. Dogs can also startle deer, prompting them (both the deer and the dog) to dart out into traffic.

While most fawns are born in late spring and early summer, some later births are still possible. Because does shelter fawns from predators, leaving for long periods to forage, wildlife centres like the BC SPCA’s WildARC typically advise residents to leave “orphaned fawns” alone – the mother is likely nearby and will return once you leave.

If the fawn appears cold, weak, thin, injured, is bleating repetitively, or if the mother has not returned to a seemingly healthy fawn for more than eight hours, call WildArc. DO NOT remove the fawn on your own—if you have inadvertently handled the animal, rub an old towel on the grass, then gently wipe the fawn down to remove human scent.

As UWSS continues to monitor Oak Bay’s immuno-contraception program and track how many fawns are born this year to both the control group and the IC-vaccinated does, it underscores the importance of research in any deer management plan, Kilpatrick says. “While the Oak Bay project will help inform future decisions about immuno-contraception and deer management, research unique to each community is essential for an effective plan.”