The deer that frolic on Oak Bay's upscale golf courses have worn out their welcome, and the hunt to target the urban ungulates is expected to begin shortly.
Blacktail deer can be found all across the Greater Victoria area, where they treat parks, residential gardens and other green spaces as an all-you-can-eat buffet. But Oak Bay is the only one of the region's 13 municipalities that has publicly taken on the challenge, and the plan to kill 25 deer, at a cost of $600 a head, has already stirred protests.
Mayor Nils Jensen said opponents of the cull have oversimplified the solutions in an emotional bid to protect the deer. He said the deer present a public-safety threat, and dismissed pleas to look at alternatives such as a birth-control vaccine. "It's going to go ahead when we get the permit," he said. "There are seniors who are afraid to go out at night."
Oak Bay resident Kerri Ward, one of the leading opponents of the hunt, said the mayor is fear-mongering to score political points with those voters who are inconvenienced by the deer.
"It's going to divide the community and nobody is going to win," Ms. Ward said.
The district is expecting its permit application to be approved by the province soon. Four other municipalities in B.C. have already had deer culls approved, but this will be, by far, the most urban setting to date.
There are close to 30,000 deer hunted annually in the province and most hunters have to pay a permit fee. But in this case, the district is prepared to pay a premium to have a contractor capture and kill 25 deer in the first round of what is expected to be a multiyear campaign.
"It's clear that there has been an explosion of the population over the last five or ten years," Mr. Jensen said. He said the deer are putting drivers at risk and have attacked pets and people.
Wildlife biologist Rick Page said the science doesn't support a cull. "We don't know how many deer there are in Oak Bay – maybe 50, maybe 200. … Ecologically, the deer are not a threat."
Mr. Page said the municipality should be launching a pilot project to compare non-lethal to lethal methods of control. "We should be a leader and find a more innovative and humane way."
TerraMar Environmental Research has the licence to make SpayVac, a vaccine that acts as a long-lasting contraceptive in wildlife. Company biologist Mark Fraker said there have been encouraging results but it has not been approved yet by Health Canada. He'd like to see Oak Bay conduct a trial, which would also help establish just how many deer there are. But he cautioned it is not a cheap and quick solution.
"The smartest thing is to go out and treat a number of deer [with the contraceptive] and lethally remove the remainder," Mr. Fraker said.
The community of Kimberley has already been through the turmoil of a deer cull, and Mayor Don McCormick backed off a second round after protests escalated to vandalism. The experience could offer some lessons for Oak Bay.
In 2011, Kimberley paid to have 99 deer killed. The animals were butchered and meat went to the local food bank. A couple of years later, Mr. McCormick said, the population rebounded and a second cull was planned. But the traps that were set to capture the deer were systematically destroyed.
"In all that emotional response, we decided to stop the cull." Instead, Kimberley city council has passed bylaws to discourage feeding and to permit higher fences. Mr. McCormick's advice for his fellow mayor in Oak Bay: "Once you get that permit approved, my advice is to get in and execute on your plan quickly and get out."
That tactic was adopted by the provincial government when it announced a grey wolf hunt two weeks ago. Anticipating protests, helicopters with contract hunters were already lifting off when the cull was announced.
Cyclist Barton Bourassa said he is pleased that at least one community is willing to tackle the problem. Two years ago, Mr. Bourassa was riding with his regular cycling club one morning along Dallas Road in Victoria when a deer sprang out of the bushes and knocked him off his bike, breaking his wrist. "It was kind of freaky." But he said he is surprised he is the only rider in his group who has hit a deer. "Every morning we see deer all over. We have had a lot of very close calls."