At the Oak Bay council meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 14), council approved applying for a matching grant from the BC Government as part of the 2017-18 Provincial Urban Deer Cost-Share Program. Funds are available to local governments and First Nations communities to help fund urban deer management projects.
However, council also passed a motion to send the province a letter with an amendment to the application stating: that council request of the provincial government additional funding to wholly fund the academic research component of the program prepared by the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society (UWSS) as such research will directly benefit the province in developing deer management options.
This amendment stems from council’s ongoing concerns that the federal and provincial governments are downloading responsibility for deer management research to municipalities. The government is requiring the municipality to take a heavily academic approach involving significant research which council feels should be funded by the province.
“We are doing all this academic research for 18,000 people (Oak Bay population), at great expense, and consuming a huge part of our staff time and agendas dealing with this issue,” said Coun. Michelle Kirby during the council meeting. “I’m very frustrated. I do believe this will be a model used elsewhere in the province, with other communities benefiting from our investment. This is not just a local issue but a provincial issue, federal issue and international issue.”
Oak Bay received similar funding in the spring as it embarked on a project with the UWSS to develop and implement a deer reduction plan using fertility control. Oak Bay was awarded a $20,000 matching grant for the plan to count, document travel and eventually inoculate local female deer with immunocontraceptives. They are currently half way through the three-month documenting processing, before being able to crunch the data and move forward with the inoculations. The information collected would give the municipality a better understanding of deer densities, range, population dynamics and dispersal rates and inform future management decisions.
“The province is making sure this follows a very, very strong scientific rigour. They are moving away from culling and now supporting other options like trans-location and immunocontraceptives,” said Steve Huxter, project manager of UWSS. “It is new to them so they are demanding a high level of confidence in what we are doing.”
“Is the province willing to pay extra for that level of detailed scientific rigour? Because this seems to be falling heavily on us as a municipality and not on the province’s side of the ledger,” said Coun. Kevin Murdoch.
UWSS carries the same concern.
This second grant application is for phase two of the project focused on designing a long-lasting immunocontraceptive with the aim to use it to control Oak Bay’s annual deer birth rate.
If the deer count research being done right now shows that Oak Bay deer stay within a 300 metre area, the municipality could apply for an exemption from Health Canada which would allow them to administer the immunocontraceptive through darts with no need to catch the deer. In this scenario, Huxter assures council there will be no need for further money to complete the inoculation of Oak Bay deer and successfully lower the deer population. Huxter is confident, based on research in Nanaimo and a similar study in New York, that Oak Bay’s urban deer stay within 300 metres.
Murdoch is concerned that the community goal is being swallowed by the academic goal.
“With $51,000 being asked for this year and $40,000 last year combined, I think it’s not unreasonable for people to want some action on this,” said Murdoch. “And when so much of it is around building population models and things of that nature, we are building a model for the province in many ways. We are significantly funding a lot of research on this front that really should be done by the province.”
All council members, except Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, voted in favour of the motion to apply for the cost-share funding. Braithwaite voted against the motion on principle that the province should be dealing with the deer problem.
It was a unanimous decision to pass the amendment to the application asking the provincial government to cover the academic research portion.
Kirby noted that her approval was based on the amendment being sent in a separate letter after the application had been submitted so as to not negatively impact the chances of receiving a grant.
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