Ron Kerr is a former chair of the Kimberley Urban Deer Committee and was the contractor on Kimberley’s first deer cull. He shares his perspective on an issue of great community interest — urban deer.
For the Bulletin
Talking about deer culls should not be construed as a prelude to the annihilation of mule deer. Nor should it be considered an endorsement as the only means of solving urban deer problems. Culls are just one aspect of wildlife management. The purpose of these writings is to present information about urban deer issues, evaluate options, including education, translocation, contraception, hazing, increased predator activity, deer/vehicle accidents, political agendas, both provincial and civic, as well as the agendas of environmental groups. The goal is to provide the reader with information so they can decide for themselves what actions, if any, they support.
A good place to start is to get our head around the fact that deer problems are not going to go away anytime soon. Some people are shocked when it’s mentioned that more than 200 deer have been culled in the Kootenays, between Kimberley, Cranbrook, Elkford and Invermere, since 2011. Those numbers pale by comparison to culls in other North American locations and the United Kingdom.
What would happen, for example, if cities did nothing? Prior to culling deer in Kimberley, Kimberley’s Urban Deer Committee decided to do counts to determine if a cull was necessary despite the growing number of incidents with aggressive deer. When counts were completed those figures (averaged about 200 deer for each of the three counts) were discussed with a company in the US that extrapolates data for US wildlife departments to provide a bigger picture for management purposes. We were informed that if we saw 200 deer there could actually be 300 to 400 in the urban population. In addition, the population could grow to 800 in five to six years if we did nothing. These estimates are based on weather, availability of food, predation, birth rates and survival rates. Many does were giving birth to twins in the years leading up to the count.
In the United Kingdom new research showed that only by culling 50 to 60 per cent of deer can their numbers be kept under reasonable control. Deer are said to be having a devastating effect on woodlands, damaging farmers’ crops, causing road accidents and threatening a danger to public safety in urban areas. Total deer numbers are conservatively estimated at about 1.5 million for a country that would fit into British Columbia. Experts estimate that more than 750,000 deer are being shot each year.
One of the downsides to the UK problems is that there are no predators. Dr. Paul Dolman from the University of East Anglia said he didn’t think it would be realistic to have wolves and bears in rural England. But allowing deer numbers to expand unchecked until their population crashed would have “consequences a lot crueler than culling,” he maintained.
He also said that darting deer with contraceptives to stop them reproducing was not a practical solution. He argues that it does not resolve the immediate problem and it also means that venison might be tainted with potentially harmful drugs.
“We’re talking about putting venison steaks on your table or eating venison at gastopubs. If we shifted part of our diet do deer it wouldn’t be a bad thing,” he added.
Based on the hundreds of pounds of deer burger that was donated to local food banks and Street Angels from culled deer in the Kootenays they may agree with the venison concept – in my opinion.