Wildlife battle rages for Central Saanich farmer

‘Worst year ever’ says Central Saanich’s Jack Mar on a losing battle to protect crops from wildlife.

  • Jul. 2, 2015 10:00 a.m.

Squirrels in the strawberries, rabbits in the bush beans and deer in the kale. Not to mention birds in the berries.

Wildlife seems to be taking over at Central Saanich farmer Jack Mar’s property. It’s gotten so bad, the 75-year-old spent four nights camping out in his van to try and catch the crop thieves red-handed.

“But I couldn’t spot them,” he says.

“This is the worst year I’ve ever seen for birds, rabbits, deer and squirrels,” says Mar, who started his career as a farmer right after graduating 55 years ago.

“I’ve never had all these varmints in one year like this,” Mar says. “I just hope it doesn’t continue over the summer.”

Mar has filed an application with Central Saanich for an easement to allow a perimeter fence on municipal land. That would help with deer, which have had little problem getting past a fence Mar erected on the Martindale Road property he rents. On Monday morning, Mar said he had to chase away two large deer that were chewing their way through rows of kale.

“They’ve just destroyed the plants,” Mar said.

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor is sympathetic to Mar’s plight and notes that a number of farmers have asked for easements to try and keep wildlife away from crops.

“We try and expedite (those requests) because we do realize the issue is time sensitive,” says Windsor, who toured Mar’s farm last week.

Mar is also in the process of filling out paperwork for a firearms discharge permit to allow him to use a shotgun to protect his livelihood. However, it’s unclear if his property is large enough to meet municipal requirements. Windsor says he’s looking into whether there’s any room to reduce those requirements, which may be more stringent than provincial regulations.

Mar, who co-chairs the Peninsula Agricultural Commission, says deer and geese are causing problems for many farmers in Central Saanich.

But, likely because Mar’s farmland is next to a large patch of forested area, he’s also trying to fight off rabbits, squirrels and birds — all of which seem to have larger populations than usual this year.

Windsor says recent mild winters might be one of the reasons populations seem to have swollen. If that’s the case, he says the municipality might also need to re-examine its rules to reflect a new reality.

Mar blames birds for eating more than 1,500 pickling cucumber plants, which then needed to be replanted.

He says squirrels and rabbits are the culprits behind the loss of about 10 per cent of his strawberries, which are still ripening in the field. As well, more than 1,000 cauliflower plants were reduced to just 15 plants, while kale planted three weeks ago has been stripped to its roots and more than 2,000 bush beans were eaten over four nights last week.

“They took 32 beans off the first night,” Mar says. “Then they wiped out the rest of it.”

He estimates he’s lost about 90 per cent of his cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.

“I’m so frustrated, I’m not going to bother looking after what’s left,” says Mar, noting the remaining crops simply aren’t worth the cost to water them.

“It’s only been the last half dozen years since the deer showed up,” Mar says. “And we’ve been farming here for a good number of years.”

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