The deaths of a mother cougar and three juveniles this week is spurring citizens to take action.
The action they want falls into two camps. A petition was started asking the province to change regulations to prevent euthanizing animals, while others are calling for a cull of urban deer to reduce the food source that attracted the cougars into Penticton.
Conservation officers were aware the cougar family was hunting urban deer in Penticton for a few weeks, but the cougars became increasingly bold and attempts to haze them and remove their food sources failed to encourage them to move away from populated areas.
Jim Beck, a sergeant with the Conservation Officer Service, said it came down to a matter of public safety and they reluctantly made the decision to euthanize the animals. The three juveniles were put down on Tuesday morning, and the mother a few hours later.
That’s prompted some, like Joanne Richardson, to call for a deer cull. She has been communicating with both Mayor Andrew Jakubeit and the province.
Aaron Reid, a wildlife biologist with the Ministry of Forests, responded to her concerns in an email, agreeing that the availability of prey does attract predators, but adding that one of the reasons the deer move into the city is the “human shield” against predation.
“The province does have jurisdiction over wildlife, including deer, in B.C. but our primary tools (i.e. hunting) to manage populations is limited within municipalities by shooting and firearm bylaws designed to protect human safety,” wrote Reid. “We do provide support, financial and technical, to municipalities that wish to address the issue through culls or translocations and other management options but we put the onus on municipalities to lead these efforts.”
Penticton has attempted to follow the province’s process to be allowed to cull deer, but in the end public opposition and the threat of lawsuits caused city hall to drop the idea.
More: City nixes deer cull
Jakubeit said that isn’t likely to change soon.
“Currently, it’s not on our horizon. Really, it’s more of a provincial problem,” he said, noting that last year the province committed $100,000 to help deal with the problem province-wide.
“There is some sort of task force looking at it, but I don’t think they’ve made much progress,” said Jakubeit.
The province, he explained, is firm that wild animal control is in their jurisdiction.
“To do anything with the deer, you have to go through them, and in the past there have been a lot of hoops to go through,” said Jakubeit.
Even if it were easy, he said, there is public opposition to deal with. People go to a lot of lengths to sabotage the traps, or to put legal challenges in place. Invermere ended up spending more than $100,000 when an animal rights group did just that.
“To a lot of people, they’re warm and cuddly creatures they like to see,” said Jakubeit. “It’s not until your garden gets raided, or you get stalked … till it resonates that it is a problem.”
Jakubeit said it will be up to council if they want to discuss a deer cull again, but regardless, there are no quick solutions available.
“On one hand, the cougars have probably been the best source of culling the urban deer,” said Jakubeit. “It is unfortunate that they moved into urban areas and were visible in daylight hours, displaying little or no fear of people.”
Jakubeit said the city acknowledges the problem of urban deer, adding that he had personal experience.
“My wife has been stalked by deer and I have been intimidated by deer. I know firsthand how problematic they are.”
But, he repeated, the deer are a provincial problem.
“Really, the community’s pleas should be going to MLA (Dan) Ashton’s office to leverage the conservation service and the various levels of government to help,” said Jakubeit. “It’s not just a problem in Penticton. It’s a problem throughout the province.”
Among other things, the petition started after the cougars were killed, wants a number of changes to provincial regulations, including making termination a last resort with relocation including sanctuary options for these animals, to prevent all attacks resulting in an injury or death.
Beck said they considered relocating the cougars, but it wasn’t a good option. With the mother cougar and juveniles showing no fear of humans — it even allowed a conservation officer to approach within 20 feet — the animals would likely move into another community.
Taking them far enough out of populated areas was also not an option, he said, because much of the region’s deer population, the cougar’s main food source, is confined to urban areas during the winter.
Online, a petition has been set up to demand changes to how large carnivores are dealt with, including making termination a last resort with relocation including sanctuary options for these animals, to prevent all attacks resulting in an injury or death.
The petition can be found online at: Petition Change to the Large Carnivore Policies and Procedures Public Safety Protocol