Passing the buck

Districts want the province to deal with potential deer round-ups; firearms laws

Municipalities on the Peninsula are looking at deer management strategies to keep increasing numbers of the animals away from crops.

Control of deer populations on the Saanich Peninsula will include new fencing options, anti-feeding bylaws and some significant differences in where hunting the deer will be allowed.

The Capital Regional District is taking its proposed deer management strategy to the districts of Central and North Saanich, as well as the District of Saanich. The CRD is seeking implementation of ways to control what is seen as increasing numbers of deer in the south Island. Already, differences in what each municipality will allow are becoming evident.

The District of North Saanich has rejected options for public hunts and professional sharp shooting and asked staff to research bow hunting and the use of third parties in its crop protection hunting bylaw.

In Central Saanich, council asked their municipal staff for bylaws to allow public hunting, amendments to provincial hunting regulations, align provincial and local permitting processes for crop protection, revisit deer bag limits, look into the use of sharp shooters and investigate a bounty.

Both municipalities are about to implement similar anti-feeding bylaws (in addition to deer, North Saanich will include rabbits, racoons and geese), explore fencing heights and subsidies for farmers and become involved with a regional public education program.

In presenting the strategy in North Saanich, CRD senior planning manager Marg Misek-Evans said the work stemmed from the raising of the problem of too many deer by area farmers, facing crop losses. Study and consultation were done in 2011 and 2012 and now the CRD is hoping to implement changes to better control the deer.

Misek-Evans said the question for North Saanich is whether council will allow public hunting and ease the rules to allow it and if the district would participate in a trap and euthanize program. Some of the proposals call for support in changing local and provincial firearms laws.

“We are asking for the positions of the municipalities,” she said, adding the District of Saanich is in the process of drafting its own strategy recommendations.

North Saanich council took issue with any consideration of trapping and killing deer and would only support an option to have the CRD work with the province on such matters. Any changes to bag limits during a hunt, said the conch, will also fall to the CRD and province.

“It’s a pretty nasty situation,” said Coun. Craig Mearns about a cull he witnessed on Sidney Island.

Coun. Dunstan Browne added using experience hunters, who know what they

are doing, is one thing, but termed the rounding up of deer and then killing them as “barbaric.”

North Saanich currently allows the hunting of deer for crop protection purposes. It does not, however, allow the use of bows or third parties to do the work. District chief administrative officer Rob Buchan asked council to let staff research the bow hunting option with the RCMP, after concerns were raised about the lack of noise — and hence warning — when using bows.

Reaction from residents in North Saanich was mixed during the Feb. 25 presentation. While most acknowledged deer are impacting area farmers, concerns over the use of firearms in populated areas were raised.

Val Boswell, with a citizens’ group called DeerSafe, said she’s opposed to the use of sharp shooters and bounties on deer and wants people to know what could be happening in their communities soon.

Others expressed concern about hunting near trails and homes.

“When there’s a single, controlled hunt, we can’t know the numbers of hunters working independently,” added resident Nancy Eaton. “There’s just too dense a population here.”

North Saanich council’s main focus on controlling deer was public education and using fencing to keep deer away from crops and people’s gardens. District staff are now tasked with regulating residential fence heights and materials, with the expectation that not everyone will want a taller fence to keep deer out of their yards.

Central Saanich

During a meeting on Feb. 12, Central Saanich district council directed staff to draft bylaws to allow public hunting as well as prohibit intentional deer feeding.

Council also directed staff to work with the CRD on public education, follow up with the federal and provincial governments in regards to renewing subsidies for deer fencing, write the province requesting amendments to hunting regulations (including bag limits on crop protection) and the alignment of provincial and local police in supporting the involvement of First Nations in the hunting process. Council also had staff look into using sharpshooters and establishing a bounty for deer.

The laws

Currently, the municipality of Central Saanich bylaws only allow farmers doing crop protection to use shotguns with shot ammunition. Some farmers in the area are calling for single shot projectiles, or slugs, but the use of rifles is currently prohibited in the area under provincial laws.

“Our municipal bylaws only allow shotguns with pellet (ammunition) to be used in crop protection,” explained Central Saanich Police Corporal Wes Penny, who acts as the representative for the department working with the CRD, the municipality and local farmers.

“Provincial regulations prohibit the use of rifles at all in this area and as a municipality we can’t change that. However, the bylaws could be changed to allow hunting with slug which would mean a revision in the distances allowed in discharging the firearms.”

Penny added the current bylaw states that any crop protection using shot ammunition must be done at a minimum of 150m away from any type of dwelling or public space and should the regulations be changed to allow single-shot ammunition, those distances would have to be adjusted accordingly.

“The (parameters) would probably have to increase by at least double, if not more, which would probably eliminate a lot of farms from using it because of their size,” he explained.

Crop protection

Although the police department has to approve applications from farmers to do crop protection, Penny said, the proper use and abiding by all other rules is still ultimately up to individual farmers.

“When we approve a crop protection permit, what we’re doing is allowing people to do crop protection on their property in the municipality,” he said.

“It’s still a requirement that farmers abide by all other regulations including hunting regs and firearms regs.”

It’s a tough job, Penny added, trying to balance both sides of an equation that includes members of one common community.

“We want to work with the farmers and help them deal with crop loss and loss of their livelihood while we also address what is of utmost importance, which is public safety. Our role is essentially to provide information about legislation and regulations and provide enforcement when it’s required.”