It’s been awhile since we last posted – it’s been busy!
Since January, our Project Manager, Sandra Frey, along with data analyst Joanna Burger, and our lead scientist Dr. Jason Fisher, finalized a Preliminary Progress Report as required by the Province of BC and presented it to Oak Bay Council on February 19, for subsequent submission to the Province.
What’s the bottom line?
Based on the data from August 2018, there are between 72 – 128 deer in Oak Bay, with a 95% confidence interval. This is a very precise number and will likely be narrowed even more as more data is analyzed.
We’ve also learned that the deer population is not distributed evenly throughout Oak Bay, with the highest concentrations in the Uplands, around the golf courses, and near Oliver and Brighton Streets.
The cutting-edge research and statistical techniques being used in the Oak Bay/Provincial/UWSS Research Project are providing important insights into Oak Bay’s deer population that will inform effective management strategies in the future. For instance, some residents estimated the number of deer to be much higher, often between 400 – 1000….we can now say conclusively, based on the scientific evidence, that the median number of deer in Oak Bay is actually … 97.
It’s important to remember that if you are seeing multiple deer, you are likely seeing the same deer multiple times, rather than multiple deer one time each!
We share this land not only with native wildlife but also with the Indigenous peoples that reside here. But more than this, the deer around Kimberly, BC don’t belong to the people living in Kimberly, BC. Nor do the deer living in Oak Bay belong to the people of Oak Bay. Wildlife is regulated by and actually belong to all the people of British Columbia—not the people amongst which they happen to reside. So then how do we strike balance between the needs of landowners, wildlife, and the First Nations that all coexist here?
Firstly, we need to find a management strategy that is scientifically sound and endorsed by the Province of BC. That means that each and every management plan needs to pass scientific review at the municipal and provincial level. Without provincial approval, no management action can take place. These decisions cannot be made by a municipality for their residents alone, because wildlife does not belong to the municipality.
Secondly, we need to balance diverse perspectives on the value of wildlife both within and outside of urban settings. All perspectives have value, from those that would like to see deer removed from an urban setting through to those that feel that we must coexist with native species within their indigenous habitats. These are the diverse perspectives of landowners, renters, professionals, stay-at-home parents, island-born, immigrants, community groups, NGOs and the First Nations whose unceded traditional lands we all share.
The Songhees First Nation claims Oak Bay as part of their traditional territory, and so any management plan needs to have their explicit consent and support before the Province will agree to grant a permit. In the spirit of Reconciliation, we fully support the partnership with the Songhees First Nation and are conducting this research with their support. As peoples who have inhabited these lands for thousands of years, and who have coexisted with indigenous wildlife for the entirety of their history, it is understandable that they are opposed to a cull on their traditional lands.
Since no management permit can be issued without the support of the Province and First Nations, we are working to find solutions for management that satisfy the requirements of all the peoples of Greater Victoria. That means accepting that a cull is not a plausible management solution, and moving ahead with other non-lethal means of control that balance the needs of all us.
Your municipal government usually has some budgetary expenses related to urban wildlife management. So why not just get rid of the need for this repeated cost by eradicating deer from within municipal boundaries?
Well, it’s not that simple. The BC Provincial Veterinarian explains that for culling to be effective, it must occur annually. When the population is reduced quickly through a substantial cull, competition for mates among deer is reduced, birth rates are higher and the population grows faster. Similarly, with fewer animals competing for food and territories, the body condition of remaining deer improves, also resulting in higher birth rates and hence quicker population growth.
But in addition to the decrease in competition for mates and food resulting in fast population growth from the deer that remain, there’s another problem that can contribute to a quickly increasing deer population—immigration from areas outside the cull.
The sudden “void” in the population that is created by a cull provides opportunities for deer in adjacent regions to immigrate into the newly created competition-free landscape of abundant food. And so, the population once again grows quickly.
So, for culling to be an effective management tool, it would need to be done annually, and it’s not cheap. The CRD spent $272,000 in the 2014/15 fiscal year, with $50,000 spent on the 2015 cull in Oak Bay alone—for the cull of only 11 deer. It’s going to get very costly, very quickly, if a significant number of deer would need to be culled annually.
As an alternative, we’re assessing whether birth control (that’s right, birth control—known as immunocontraception or IC) may be a more cost-effective alternative. Getting those deer on birth control will decrease a population gradually, avoiding the fast population growth rates that a cull can produce. For the capture and collaring of the deer in this study, to date, the cost of the vet’s time on this project has been only $6,000 for over 2.5 times the number of deer handled in the 2015 cull. So for the same amount spent in 2015, we’ll be able to IC a very large proportion of the deer population—so we expect this to be much more effective than that cull was. As a bonus, we expect that IC won’t need to be repeated annually—we’re still trying to figure out how often it will need to be administered, but projected cost savings—to achieve the same goals as a cull, without the problems with rebound population growth—are significant.
The issue of urban wildlife management, as in the case of urban deer in Oak Bay, is an extremely divisive issue. Some residents are quite vocal in their desire to have all deer eradicated from within the municipalities that were built within the deer’s native habitat.
Yet other residents enjoy their interactions with wildlife and find the suggestions of eradication to be ridiculous.
The vast majority of residents likely fall in the middle—those that are not willing to speak up because they don’t feel strongly either way.
In 2016 Oak Bay administered a General Satisfaction Survey that included a question on deer. Of the 400 respondents, there was an approximately 50/50 split on culling deer, and of those that supported a cull, their response was based on the information that “a humane cull” was the only option available. Given that the method of culling deer involves trapping, bolt gunning and slitting the throat of deer, it is reasonable to think that of those that do support a lethal cull, would prefer a non-lethal method.
Also, keep in mind that based on the 2016 census there are 18,094 residents in Oak Bay. Those 400 survey respondents account for only 2.2% of the population of Oak Bay. So then we know that ~1% of the people love the deer, and ~1% hates the deer. The VAST majority didn’t respond because they didn’t feel strongly —that means the deer are not an issue for them. They either tolerate the deer or aren’t upset by them—but that means that these residents don’t feel any action needs to be taken to deal with the deer.
When you consider that 1) this middle-ground majority of residents either enjoy the urban wildlife as it currently is or 2) those residents vocal about conserving wildlife—even within municipal limits—that means that the MAJORITY of residents within Oak Bay would not like to see the deer eradicated from the landscape.
It is precisely because this majority of residents in greater Victoria prefer to coexist with urban wildlife that we are working with the municipalities of Oak Bay and Esquimalt to find humane, non-lethal and non-eradication methods of urban wildlife management. Indeed, these methods will help to inform effective wildlife management throughout all the municipalities of Greater Victoria and across Vancouver Island.
That’s one of the reasons why our research is so important. We want to help the municipalities of Greater Victoria find effective, long-term solutions to co-existing with wildlife right here within their native range. Stay tuned next week for more information.