While most of Penticton slept last Friday morning, nine teams of volunteers stealthily blanketed the city in search of intruders.
In January, city council voted to go ahead with a deer cull to thin the herds that munch gardens and threaten safety, and a count was deemed necessary to gauge the size of the problem and get a sense of how big the cull should be.
Although Friday’s count was executed with zero public fanfare so no one would disrupt the process, I was invited along as a media observer. My team consisted of city staffers Tyler Figgitt and Anthony Haddad, plus Mike Pearce, the former mayor and city councillor. Pearce brought the idea of a deer cull to council last summer while he was still in office.
What follows is a detailed account of our deer-spotting ineptitude.
5:31: I arrive at City Hall precisely one minute late and a briefing is already underway. Biologist Brian Harris explains the finer points of deer counting: pay attention to the road; scope out alleys and lane-ways; avoid double-counting; don’t spill your coffee.
5:50: We four amigos saddle up and hit the road in our trusty Dodge Caravan.
5:56: We arrive in Zone 9 on South Main near where it splits with Skaha Lake Road. Our route extends south to Smythe Road. Pearce explains that Disney’s sympathetic portrayal of deer in Bambi is responsible for public resistance to the cull. “Without Walt Disney, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Pearce says.
6:02: I spot a small deer towing a cart in a yard on South Main. Turns out it’s actually a ceramic lawn ornament and the deer might actually be a donkey.
6:06: We roll into the Dauphin mobile home park. “We get loads of complaints from these guys,” Haddad says. He goes on to explain that the park has generated 40 or 50 of the roughly 300 deer complaints the city has received since September. Today looks to be complaint-free.
6:23: A few blocks south we spot an elderly lady watering the garden in front of her condo.
“Have you seen any deer?” Figgitt asks.
“Do I live here?” she replies.
“No, have you seen any deer?” Figgitt asks again.
“I don’t see any,” she says.
6:24: I ask Haddad, an Aussie, if there are deer down under. He says yes, but adds kangaroos are more of a nuisance there. In fact, some cities have apparently culled kangaroos on humanitarian grounds because they were unwell due to overpopulation. “But they had the army come in and do that,” he says. Pearce brightens at this and suggests inquiring with MP Dan Albas about whether our Canadian Forces are busy.
6:43: “I thought you would have had one tied down on your front lawn,” Haddad says to Pearce as we pass the former mayor’s home. “I’ve got a picture of me riding one,” Pearce offers.
6:59: Pearce whips out his iPhone to check the price of his Apple Inc. shares.
7:06: Pearce begins extolling the virtues of his iPad. I wonder if he’s pumping the stock.
7:11: With zero deer in the bag, we head back to City Hall. “Maybe we’ve got to start at 4:30 next time,” Haddad suggests.
Back in the war room, the counters eat muffins and chat with Harris, the biologist, while waiting for the stragglers. City operations boss Mitch Moroziuk’s crew is last. He reports seven deer, the highest of any team, and brings the grand total to 20.
Harris explains that there is no way to know the true number of deer in the city. At this time of year, he says, deer are likely hiding with newborn fawns, or feeding back up in the hills where food has once again become plentiful and the animals don’t have to put up with humans.
Haddad says details of the count will be provided to council in June and it will be up to elected officials to decide how to proceed. Another count will probably be conducted in September with the cull, if still required, likely to happen in late fall. Deer would be trapped, then euthanized with a bolt gun, and the resultant venison provided to the Salvation Army food bank.