On January 14, a community forum was hosted by the Mayne Island Residents and Ratepayers Association at the Ag Hall to discuss the growing deer populations on Mayne Island, their impact on the islands ecosystem and the options available to address residents concerns over deer overpopulation. Over 85 residents and stakeholders representing a broad spectrum of interests filled the hall.
Peter Arcese from UBC opened the meeting with a detailed presentation on the impacts of deer on the ecosystem when populations exceed what Mother Nature intended. Some of the photos were dramatic and validated the concerns that have been expressed by islanders in recent years. Todd Golumbia from Parks Canada related his experiences on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and, more recently, Sidney Island where deer have decimated native plant species
Peter also reminded the audience that deer overpopulation is a human caused issue. In the past there were bears, wolves and cougars on the island that kept the deer numbers down. In the past 150 years humans became intolerant of these predators and removed them from the ecosystem. Nature was kept in balance until recent times due to hunting. However, in the 1970’s hunting was banned from Mayne Island and the deer blossomed in numbers to the point we are today. There is not accurate way of assessing the number of deer on Mayne, but the numbers are well into the thousands according the knowledgeable islanders
In the 1990’s, this issue was exasperated by the escape of European Fallow Deer from a local deer farm. The Fallow deer appear to have a more aggressive feeding habit, which reduces the available food for the native Black Tail deer, pushing them to eat native plants that normally they would not touch. However perhaps the most dramatic information from the meeting came from Galiano, where it was disclosed three Fallow Deer were recently shot by hunters. This could be well interpreted as a sign the Mayne has reached ‘critical mass’ and the deer are swimming to other islands in search of a food source. There currently is a restricted permit only hunt for Fallow Deer on Mayne to control that population.
Peter stated that the sustainable number of deer that would allow a proper balance within the ecosystem would be 10 deer per square kilometre. There are approximately 23.5 square kilometres of land mass on Mayne, so the population would need to be reduced to less than 250 deer. There was general agreement at the meeting that the invasive Fallow Deer should be 100% culled and the Black Tail brought down to sustainable numbers.
In that we are in a situation caused by humans, the solution must come from humans.
It is highly unlikely that islanders will embrace the ‘natural’ solution of reintroducing bears, wolves and cougars on Mayne. Efforts in other jurisdictions to sterilize, capture or relocate deer have proven to be expensive and ineffective in both the short and long term. The only viable option is to open up hunting on island, under a set of rules developed by islanders, respecting the concerns of islanders.
It is hoped that the next community forum will be held with Provincial Government officials to explore what options are available. There are strict regulations with regard to the inspection and handling of game meat for commercial sale, which virtually eliminates the option of a commercial style hunt. However, the question has been posed to the Ministry as to the possibility of distributing meat at no cost to the community under a co-op style venture, which may circumvent the inspection requirements.
Although it was not brought up at the meeting, there perhaps is some concern as to the concept of hunting ‘innocent’ deer for the benefit of humans. It is important to point out that the overpopulation of deer is resulting in the destruction of our islands sensitive ecosystem; regulated hunting would be undertaken for the purpose of returning a balance to the island we love. Those who would like further details or information about future forums are invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to thank UBC, Parks Canada, RCMP, Islands Trust Fund, the Mayne LTC and the stakeholders and residents that attended the meeting. It was a positive and informative experience and the first step to addressing a very serious issue on our island.