Friday, December 8, 2017

Salt Spring Island Deer: Killing to Conserve

Photo credit: Mark Schneider

Salt Spring Island is the most densely populated island in the Capital Regional District. The Salt Spring Island Conservancy was formed to protect, restore, enhance and maintain wildlife habitats and ecosystems on their seven nature reserves. Seven hundred acres of conservancy land represent 1% of Salt Spring Island’s land. These pockets of fiercely defended areas are an admirable attempt to keep housing development, animal agriculture and other business enterprises at bay.

1 of 7 nature reserves on Salt Spring Island

On November 4, 2017 the conservancy opened the Alvin Indiridson Nature Reserve to a local deer cull. This wasn’t the first time. The conservancy has declared indigenous black tailed deer a nuisance on their nature reserves. They have invited the local rod and gun club to kill deer on their lands annually since 2010. This year a notice was posted around the island by an unknown party. It served to highlight a completely unmanaged, unscientific deer cull.

On September 24, 2016 a letter to the Times Colonist by an island resident was critical of the conservancy’s deer cull, stating “The open invitation that has been extended to members of our local gun club on their website to kill animals for sport on conservancy property says: ‘A great arrangement - let’s take advantage of it.’ Personally, I doubt that the conservancy backers or the deer believe this is a “great arrangement.” - John Callas 

A scientific count of deer on the island has never been conducted. A survey of residents’ attitudes regarding deer has never taken place.

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation featured Salt Spring Island Conservancy in an article on their blog called “Natural Allies.” They asked the conservancy what prompted them to get together with the Rod and Gun club, and this was the answer:

“[Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation]! In response to this need for capacity, HCTF provided funding to cover staffing costs during the acquisition of the 320 acre Hope Hill Property, which is now known as the Alvin Indridson Nature reserve. In acknowledgement of the fact that HCTF funds come from hunting & angling licence fees, we made the commitment to allow hunting on the property. This was new ground for us. I am really excited about it because of the potential benefit that hunting could have on the Island’s deer situation. There is mounting evidence that an overabundance of deer can have a significant impact on everything from endangered plants to songbird populations, so for us to have a reserve where deer hunting is allowed is almost an ecological imperative.

However, it soon became apparent that we didn’t have the expertise within the Conservancy to manage a hunting reserve, and (naturally) we thought of the local Rod & Gun club.

Robin Annschild, Conservation Director of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy, takes aim beside John Foley, President of the SSI Rod & Gun Club” - Natural Allies blog post, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation

The conservancy has failed to research the very real consequences of culling deer. Compensatory rebound is a well-documented population dynamic that occurs when herd density is temporarily reduced through hunting. Removing large numbers of deer will produce a increase in the number of fawns born, with does reproducing at a younger age. Studies have proven that after a hunt surviving females produced enough offspring to not only replace those killed, but enough to actually increase the size of the herd. When a vacancy is created by a cull deer from surrounding areas will move into the area.

They have also failed to survey their donors regarding the morality of killing indigenous wildlife on a nature reserve.

The conservancy states on their website: “If, as author J.B. MacKinnon says, we now live in a 10% world - where humans have altered the ecology of about 90% of the planet - we think it’s sensible to set aside a good portion of the island for places where nature comes first, and where human beings bow to nature and alter their actions accordingly.”

By ignoring the science on the culling of deer the Salt Spring Island Conservancy, who hold in trust 1% of the land on the island, has committed the rest of Salt Spring Island to a permanent problem.

Kelly Carson
for Victoria Animal News

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