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Controversial deer cull gets approval

A deer cull is in the plans after city council gave final approval on Monday to address deer overpopulation. - File photo
A deer cull is in the plans after city council gave final approval on Monday to address deer overpopulation.
— image credit: File photo

Penticton has closed the door on having an open season within the city, but council unanimously agreed to include a cull in plans to address deer overpopulation.

“We’re going to get both sides on it, so be prepared,” Mayor Dan Ashton said. “This is Pandora’s box. We’re going to start hearing about it.”

On Monday, staff presented council with five options to consider building the city’s deer management strategy upon: a limited-entry, controlled public hunt; a capture and cull program; public education and administrative actions; ongoing monitoring; and a consultation process with an advisory committee.

Brian Harris from the Ministry of Forests and Land told council the limited-entry hunt would involve a lottery system: hunters could register to participate and, if selected, could take part in a controlled public hunt of the city’s choosing.

Harris added that no municipality has applied to declare a general open season to address deer overpopulation, and ministry officials were curious about its dynamics. In theory, he explained, the city would issue permits to hunters, set daily limits of how many deer could be bagged and where hunts could be conducted, although it must be 100 metres from houses, schools or churches.

“This is actually new for the province and I’m kind of hoping you choose this so the province has another tool in the toolbox,” he said.

Coun. Wes Hopkin asked if limiting the controlled public hunt to one deer per marksman could be increased, as an incentive to experienced hunters.

“There were discussion from the beginning on this. The guys in Victoria decided to leave it at one and see if it’s an issue,” Harris replied. “An increase to the bag limit can be done, but the thinking was let’s see if that will be an impediment to this.”

Hopkin also questioned if the ministry is interested in the city embarking upon a controlled public hunt, whether it would be willing to cover some costs.

Harris said that although he couldn’t speak for the ministry, there is precedence of provincial support for deer management techniques: when Grand Forks “balked” at the cost of the cull, ministry staff in the Kootenays came up with some funding to provide tools and equipment.

Coun. Helena Konanz asked whether beginning a hunt would drive deer away, but Harris explained the controlled public hunt has limited effectiveness because it is restricted to larger, unpopulated areas and does not address deer migrating to urban neighbourhoods. “A cull is way more effective. You can limit your actions to one area,” he said.

Coun. Garry Litke moved that the city remove the controlled public hunt from its deer management strategy, noting its limited efficacy.

“A controlled public hunt is an example of the cure being worse than the disease. People running around with guns, as qualified as it may be, is a recipe for trouble,” he said.

He got support from Coun. John Vassilaki. “I couldn’t have voted for this recommendation,” he said. “I’m scared to death of guns. Killing an animal, in my view, is as bad as whacking a kid across the face.”

Removing the controlled public hunt was unanimously removed by council for consideration, and they moved on to three other strategies, with much discussion on a potential cull.

Harris explained that the City of Cranbrook applied to the ministry to reduce its deer population by 25 per cent. It had counted a deer population of 120, and applied for a cull limit of 25 head. The province provides the trap equipment, and the city has hired a contractor to set and maintain traps. The cull can happen anytime, he explained, noting it is not tied to hunting season.

“Cranbrook has set the pace for the rest of the province,” Harris said.

Harris said applying to the ministry for a cull permit would take weeks rather than months, and then Penticton would have to secure one of the two contractors in B.C. that can oversee the traps. Those contractors could employ an existing agreement between the Ministry of Forests and Land conservation office, A&K Grimm’s Sausage and the Salvation Army to prepare venison for donation to low-income families. Game meat preparation services would be provided for free.

Residents would have to agree to allow a cull on their private property, and Harris said the process is conducted quickly.

“Cranbrook baits the traps the night before and the contractor checks them in the morning. The animals are killed before dawn, and nobody sees anything,” he said.

Vassilaki asked if the cull system trapped deer, why the contractors couldn’t just release the animals in the wild. Harris explained that while deer could be transported, often the move harmed deer more. Relocation efforts typically require the animal to be moved at least 20 kilometres outside city limits; which would mean contractors would have to release them in OK Falls or Summerland, which are already overrun with deer. In winter, the mountains have too much snow to get far enough out of town. While summer may permit relocation, Harris explained, there’s no guarantee the deer would stay in the wild. “They may wander into town again,” he said.

Transporting deer is also a challenge, Harris added: while animals like big horn sheep can be grouped together in a stock car, more than two or three deer in such a confined space will cause the animals to fight each other, leaving them possibly mortally wounded upon arrival.

The cull will cost the city some money, at approximately $150 per head. Konanz asked how much total it would cost, and Ashton said the city will likely have to pick a number and budget for that amount.

Coun. Judy Sentes said in addition to an education campaign for residents, she would support a local deer count.

“I think we need some idea of the numbers. I don’t know if we know that,” she said. “While I’m in support of this action, I think we have to have an idea of what we’re dealing with.”

Anthony Haddad, development services director, said 42 residents called the City Hall hotline to report urban deer sightings, with most bordering on agricultural areas. Those calls did not generate a number of deer, and staff don’t have figures on vehicle accidents caused by deer.

Hopkin said it will be difficult for the city to decide whether it needs to repeat a cull in the future, “if you don’t have a baseline for deer that are here.”

Council unanimously approved the capture and cull program in addition to the public education and ongoing monitoring initiatives. The fifth element regarding an advisory committee consultation group was not included among approved strategies.

Shortly after that vote, council briefly debated a deer feeding prohibition bylaw that bans residents and businesses from directly providing food, waste or other material that would attract deer.

“This doesn’t include incidental feeding, but is designed for people who are actually feeding the animals,” Ashton explained.

Haddad added that farm operations, subsistence gardeners and ornamental plants or flower gardeners are exempt from the bylaw.

Vassilaki asked how the bylaw would be enforced, which Ashton replied it would likely be complaint driven and used more to educate the public.

Council unanimously passed three readings of the feeding bylaw.

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