Oak Bay Update

The following report on Phase One of Oak Bay Deer Plan Management was submitted to Oak Bay Council on June 26, 2017.

Opening Statement by Kristy Kilpatrick, UWSS president: 

Ever since we were asked by Council in November to provide you with a proposal for submission to the Provincial Urban Deer Cost Share program, this volunteer organization has been working very hard.

As you know, there are two phases to the proposal and phase one, the gathering of ecological data on urban deer in Oak Bay, was approved by the province on March 19, 2017. Steve Huxter, our Project Manager for this initiative, will update you on the current status of phase one.

Just before I hand it over to Steve, I want to touch on another component of deer management, an element that is not funded by the province but is integral to the success of any deer management program, and that’s public education.

Public education is key to shifting attitudes towards living with urban wildlife. We know – and this point has been made emphatically by wildlife biologists, scientists, the province and other experts - is that urban deer are here to stay. And for many residents that is a positive part of living in this community. No program, lethal or non-lethal, regional or otherwise, will ever eradicate the deer. That’s why the initiative that we are trialing is so important – the research gathered in phase one will provide Oak Bay and other municipalities with important information that prior to this has been unknown, and will inform the second phase, immunocontraception, as a way of managing down the deer population in a humane and community-acceptable way.

Since we know there will always be deer – the question is just how many – we need to continue the work of public education. The UWSS continues to provide residents with Caution Expect Deer signs as a way to help reduce vehicle-deer accidents, with over 700 now distributed across the capital region. We have distributed fact cards, run informational ad campaigns during fawn and rutting seasons, done presentations and workshops for other community organizations, and we run a website with information on how to live with deer.

We ran an extensive public values-based survey in Esquimalt at their request and we are currently helping them by providing expertise on public education and a deer count in the fall. We agree with most municipalities that deer management needs to be regional, and it is expected that the information gathered in phase one and two of the current project in Oak Bay will be of utmost importance to a non-lethal regional approach.

Some very positive steps have been taken in Oak Bay in regards to public education and I want to mention that along with the evidence-based component of our project we are pleased to work with the municipality on other effective measures that can be undertaken to reduce human-deer conflict. 

Report from Project Manager, Steve Huxter: 

Equipment:

We received funding approval on March 16th and as required by the province, placed the orders for equipment before the end of March. Unfortunately, there were large fiscal year-end government purchases made just before us and our orders had to wait until the manufacturing companies caught up. The nine week manufacturing delay resulted in the project start being pushed into the fawning season and hot weather. Both our science advisor from the University of Victoria and the provincial senior wildlife biologist advised that the capture and collaring needs to be delayed until late summer/early fall to avoid abandonment of a fawn and the potential for death of adult deer due to heat stress during capture. 

We are looking at late summer/early fall to start the collaring; when the fawns are a few months older and the weather is cooler. 

Current progress: 

The key component of gauging the number of deer that we have in Oak Bay will be through our use of camera traps and we can start that process right away. In fact we were scheduled to set up the cameras this past week but some interesting, new information we got last Tuesday, from the provincial Senior Wildlife Biologist, meant that we needed to redesign the placement grid. 

I’ve met with Chris Hyde-Lay, Manager of Parks Services, about potential capture locations and permission to set up cameras in areas that might be identified as placement sites; such as the community garden on Monteith Street. Chris shared some good advice about the areas where deer are commonly seen in the district. I’ll continue to keep in touch with Chris throughout the project. 

I’ve also met with Chief Constable Andy Brinton. This was before Deputy Bernoites came on board. Chief Constable Brinton and I spoke about issues related to the capture process. The net launcher we will be using may sound to residents as though they are hearing a gunshot. When the captures are taking place, a member of the capture team will be in contact with Oak Bay Police to ensure that they know where the capture activities are taking place in case a call comes in from a concerned resident. We will also be in contact with the Victoria and Saanich Police Departments, when our capture operations take place close to the Victoria and Saanich borders. I’ll be meeting with Chief Constable Brinton and Deputy Chief Bernoites, shortly after July 4th when Chief Constable Brinton has returned to work. 

Project Communications Plan:

We’re developing a communications plan for the capture operations. Before the capture and collaring operations proceed, we will co-ordinate communications with Oak Bay Administration, Oak Bay Police and the Victoria/Saanich police departments. We will want to inform Oak Bay residents of the activities and will distribute information through community websites, Facebook pages and Twitter. At least two weeks prior to the capture operation beginning, we’ll also issue a media release to the Oak Bay News. The communications plan is being overseen by volunteer communications experts. Once we have a solid draft, we’ll share it with Warren Jones and between us, set the final plan.

Provincial Permitting: 

We have submitted an application to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations – Fish and Wildlife Branch, for an Animal Care Form. An ACF is required before handling any wildlife, whether it’s a banana slug or a grizzly bear.

This past Tuesday we met with the BC Provincial Wildlife Veterinarian and Senior Wildlife Biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Branch.They have been very invested in making sure that we succeed. This is a unique project in an urban setting and they want to make certain that the methodology we use is rigorous. I think that they may be particularly interested because of a recent discovery about urban deer in Nanaimo.

During an anti-poaching initiative, they had fitted a number of bucks and does in Nanaimo with GPS transmitting collars. They had been tracking the deer movement and made some startling discoveries about how far urban deer range. They found that some bucks only ranged about 2 and a half kms and the does, to their surprise, stayed within a 300m area.

The camera placement grid we designed was to cover the 10 square km’s of Oak Bay with 40 cameras. At 4 cameras per square km, they would be placed approximately 500 m apart. 

This new data from the Nanaimo research, that the does stay with 300m, meant that we have to redesign and compress the grid area and locate it within an area of the district that offers an appropriate variety of human population densities and activity. Nanaimo has sent their movement pattern data to our science advisor, who will determine the new camera dispersal pattern and we can begin setting up the cameras.

In Nanaimo they have movement tracking information but here in Oak Bay, in addition to collaring with GPS tracking units, we are also setting up cameras to inventory the deer. The combination of density and movement information will add to the data the province has collected in Nanaimo and paint a much clearer picture of the behaviour of urban deer.

This is very relevant to deer management here in Oak Bay. What we can learn can tell us if immigration from neighbouring municipalities is a significant factor that will affect reduction efforts.

More important – if the data confirms that the does stay within a small area and the bucks don’t range nearly as far as they do in the wild, this could mean that the population increase over the past 5 or so years is primarily due to births from deer that are habituated to the area.

As the does grow up and leave their mother, they will move away and find a new 300m area in which to live. Over the last 10 to 15 years of deer population increase, the finite area available to them combined with habitat loss through development and ever increasing human activity, means that the population may have attained carrying capacity, and fewer fawns will be born or they’ll move out of Oak Bay.

Our density and movement pattern research should provide us with information that will indicate whether Oak Bay is at its ecological carrying capacity.

Immuno-contraception:

Another very important factor of what we discover could confirm that inoculating with a long term contraceptive vaccine will be the most effective and cost efficient means of population reduction and management.

If the density and movement pattern research indicates that the population of deer in Oak Bay is very likely at capacity, it will be more effective to first stabilize and then reduce the population with a contraceptive vaccine instead of a dramatic reduction in the population through culling, which could result in a population dynamic called reproductive rebound.

Reproductive rebound is a well-documented population dynamic in deer and other mammals. Deer conceive multiple embryos but the number of fawns actually born is determined by a number of complex factors including nutrition and population density. With competition for food reduced by a sudden drop in numbers, younger does will breed at a younger age and will give birth to twins and triplets instead of a single fawn.

In a 1990 report, “An Assessment of Deer Hunting in New Jersey”, New Jersey Fish and Game offered a detailed example of this process. Its report showed that during hunting seasons in which killing female deer was the objective, the remaining females had increased birthrates that not only replaced the ones killed, but increased the overall size of the herd. 

If we can stabilize the population with a long term contraceptive that lasts for five or more years, it means that after a first effort to vaccinate at least 80% of the does, the following years will be much less intensive and much less costly. Each doe that is vaccinated could then be tagged with a colour coded ear tag that indicates the year it was vaccinated.

It’s entirely possible that once the population has been reduced and stabilized, vaccination might only need to be done every second or third year. 

We will start our inoculation program next year when we will have gathered the all-important data that will provide for informed decision-making and effective action.

We are sensitive to the impatience of some residents and we are anxious to show tangible results in population reduction. The UWSS Board discussed vaccinating the does that we capture this year but our Science Advisory Group strongly recommended that we should not; saying that because the population research guides the contraception phase of the project, it’s crucial that this be done based on sound, scientific evidence rather than succumbing to pressure from some quarters and acting prematurely.

We discussed early inoculation with the provincial veterinarian and senior wildlife biologist and they agreed that we should wait until we have the facts in place before moving forward with contraception.

Aside from the manufacturing delays, all other facets of the project are progressing as they should and when the Animal Care review committee have approved our permit application, we’ll be good to go!

Respectfully submitted by:
Steve Huxter, Project Manager
Kristy Kilpatrick, UWSS president