Invermere has voted on the deer cull. Now what?

Province must amend the B.C. Wildlife Act to allow municipalities to deal with their urban deer populations in a variety of ways.

Carolyn Grant

Our friends to the north in Invermere had their opportunity this past Saturday to have their say in the ongoing question of deer management via a referendum on the matter.

To the question — Do you approve council of the district of Invermere to use a deer cull as a method to control the urban deer population? — Invermere residents gave a fairly resounding yes, with 729 were in favour of using a cull as a means of deer management, and 259 were opposed.

The issue of culling is controversial to be sure. Even the word is somewhat offensive. However, as many British Columbia municipalities grapple with the same problem — that of deer populations growing exponentially year after year — it is one of the few methods available to control that population.

Nobody wants to cull. No one is happy when it has to be done. Those Council members voting for it in the interests of public safety do not enjoy it. Even those who have to do the actual culling, involving clover traps and bolt guns, do so while undergoing a fair amount of stress. It’s stressful for citizens as well.

But it’s all we’ve got at the moment. And that’s wrong. A constant refrain from those dealing with urban deer herds is “these are the province’s deer”. The Province of British Columbia is responsible for its wildlife. It sets regulations for hunting, for conservation, and more. Yet, it refuses to accept responsibility for the largest wildlife issue in the province, that of urban deer.

Because to accept responsibility is to accept responsibility, not just for the welfare of wildlife in urban centers, but for the cost of controlling that population. In the wild, the province controls elk populations and more with hunting limits. But in small town British Columbia, the province accepts a very limited responsibility for the over-population of deer.

Oh, they’re very happy to tell a municipality what it can’t do — when you can cull and so on. The province issues the permits that allow the culls. But it will not involve itself in the costs, which are rising almost as quickly as deer populations. When the first culls were conducted in this area in the fall and winter of 2011/2012, the cost per trap was about $350. That has now risen to $650, making culling a very expensive prospect for any municipality.

The province is understandably cautious about claiming any responsibility for population control. We all know budgeting is getting more and more difficult each year and why would the province willingly take on additional costs? Right now any community wanting to deal with urban deer problems is shouldering the lion’s share of the cost of doing so, and the province is unlikely to suddenly step in and say, “Let me give you a hand with that”. They can’t afford it either.

But there is something the province can do and that’s move quickly to amend the Wildlife Act so that a method of population control that could work — that being hazing or aversive conditioning — would be allowed.

Anyone dealing with urban deer knows that controlling the population is best done through a variety of methods. In certain areas, only a cull will work. In other areas though, hazing could be very successful. And, with the costs of trapping rising, hazing could actually be more cost effective. But communities in B.C. cannot haze deer. It’s against the Wildlife Act. Even though it is done with great success on elk in the National Park towns of Banff and Jasper. Even though an experiment last year in Kimberley clearly showed that aversive conditioning can work.

Why is there resistance to amending the Act? There does not appear to have been any movement on the issue since the trial hazing in Kimberley last spring.

This is something the province can do to assist communities with an urban deer problem. It’s something tangible that doesn’t have to cost the province a lot of money.

So what’s the hold up?

Carolyn Grant is the Editor of the

Kimberley Daily Bulletin