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Tax group slams Parks Canada spending on Sidney Island deer cull

Group released findings from access-to-information showing program to cost double previous estimate
Carson Binda of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation stands in front of the B.C. legislature on May 22 to present his group’s finding that the Sidney Island deer cull is expected to cost double initial estimates. (Mark Page/News Staff)

A low-tax advocacy group is criticizing Parks Canada’s efforts to eradicate invasive deer on Sidney Island after uncovering the program’s increased cost through an access-to-information request.

“Parks Canada has dreamed up the most expensive way imaginable of hunting these deer,” said Carson Binda of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during a press conference in front of the B.C. legislature on Wednesday, May 22.

According to the group, the initial cost estimate for the plan was roughly $5.9 million, but has now more than doubled to almost $12 million.

“Program costs should be proactively disclosed to the taxpayers who are picking up the bill,” Binda said.

Black Press Media reached out to Parks Canada for comment. They stated they will provide a statement in the near future.

The deer cull is part of Parks Canada’s management plan in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve to protect and restore the endangered coastal Douglas fir ecosystem, which is only found in patches along the southern B.C. coast and in Washington and Oregon.

European fallow deer were introduced to the area in the early 1900s and, according to Parks Canada’s website, have stripped the forest understory of native tree seedlings and shrubs.

The multi-phase plan to cull deer on the island began in December when hunters from New Zealand and the United States were hired to shoot fallow deer on the island from a helicopter at a reported cost of roughly $10,000 per animal.

The Taxpayers Federation is questioning this decision to bring in foreign hunters, saying local hunters could do the same work for a fraction on the cost.

“They should be empowering those local hunters to keep doing what they’re doing, instead of flying in snipers from New Zealand or the United States to roleplay as Rambo on the taxpayer dime,” Binda said.

It is not clear whether the group just finds fault with the way the cull is being conducted, or also questions the wisdom of the campaign as a whole.

“We’ll leave it up to the environmental experts, the folks with the knowledge of deer and the environment, about whether or not a cull is needed,” Binda said.

But he later added:”I think this entire program is a dramatic waste of money.”

Phase one of the deer cull netted 84 deer over five days of work, though some of those ended up being native black-tailed deer mistaken for their invasive counterparts.

The cull program is being done after lengthy community engagement with island residents and with the support of local First Nations including the WSANEC Leadership Council, according to information from Parks Canada.

The hired marksmen worked with the local First Nations and Parks Canada to recover about 800 kilograms of meat, which was distributed within WSANEC communities.

Phase two of the cull is set to begin sometime either this fall and is to involve ground-based hunters using scent tracking dogs and large pens set up throughout the island. The dogs themselves are not meant to engage the deer.

READ MORE: Native deer killed on Sidney Island during Parks Canada cull