By Ezra Black
The last time Elkford conducted an urban deer cull, enraged anti-cull residents took the law into their own hands and began sabotaging deer traps.
In January 2014, authorities caught up with a pair of residents who were in the process of taking the bait out of a trap and intentionally triggering it, said Elk Valley RCMP Sgt. Will Thien.
They were identified and charged with mischief under $5000 but a stay of proceeding was entered later as a result of the matter being referred to alternative measures.
Now after having been approved for up to $10,000 in provincial funds to harvest up to 50 mule deer, some residents of the quiet mountain town are fearful that another cull could once again divide the community.
On Jan. 18, about 25 residents attended a public forum on the contentious issue.
“Council is really split,” said Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher. “They are literally down the middle. Do we harvest or don’t we harvest? In my house there’s only two of us and my household is split. How many households in town are split the same way?”
McKerracher said his staff was equally divided but that, “If council makes the decision to move forward with a cull, they’ll have to deal with it.”
“I personally don’t really want to do a cull,” he said. “But if we don’t do something, we’ll be in the same place we were when we started all this stuff.”
Elkford is one of several B.C. municipalities that could receive funding from a provincial program designed for communities whose steadily rising populations of urban deer occasionally lock antlers with humans.
The district’s Urban Ungulates Informational Brochure says that in July of 2010, a resident witnessed a deer chase a woman, her child, and dog, and the resident had to drive his vehicle in front of the deer to stop the attack. The following day, the resident’s dog was attacked in his backyard by a deer.
A Minister of Environment report cited in the brochure noted that, “Conflicts between urban ungulates and municipal residents include damage to gardens and landscaping, high rates of ungulate vehicle collisions, aggressive behaviour towards humans, and potential transmission of disease from ungulates to humans and livestock… urban ungulate populations are challenging to manage…as deer are very adaptable to human altered environments, and thrive in urban areas.”
At last week’s public forum, councillor Joe Zarowny said it was only a matter of time before a pet or person was harmed by an out of control ungulate or a predator attracted to town by the profusion of deer.
“My feeling is we’re supposed to keep our town safe,” he said. “Deer are wild animals and for me they’re just an attractant for the other animals to make a home here.”
In November of 2006, council implemented a bylaw that prohibited the feeding of deer in town.
The Deer Feeding Prohibition Bylaw No. 676, prohibits “providing, leaving or placing in, on or about land or premises food, food waste, or any other substance with the intention that…such be eaten by deer.”
The bylaw was passed in the hope that the urban deer population would move back to their natural feeding grounds outside of town; however, the deer population has continued to rise, said the district in a statement.
Things came to head in January 2014 when the community received a licence issued by the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and Operations to cull up to 50 urban deer.
The ensuing cull resulted in controversy. In addition to deer-trap saboteurs, the cull had to be temporarily called off when the contractor hired by Elkford allegedly began trapping and killing deer during the day and in front of residents, in violation of the permit, which specified that trapping was to take place in pre-dawn hours.
“During the last cull people were very divided,” said Melanie Wagner, a member of Elkford’s Urban Wildlife Management Advisory Committee. “It was really hard to be in town. If you were pro-cull people gave you a hard time. If you were against it people got upset about that too.”
“If another cull happens, I think that’s where you are going to see a big issue,” she said.
In a number of telephone interviews members of the Elkford Deer Protection group voiced their opposition to the deer cull, but none agreed to be quoted or identified.
“A lot of people don’t want to voice their opinion just because they’re afraid of being ostracized socially here,” said Wendy Huisman, another member of Elkford’s Urban Wildlife Management Advisory Committee. “It can be very volatile. There are a lot of people who don’t want a cull and then there are some who would prefer to have all of the deer killed and that there be absolutely no animals left in town, which is ridiculous because we live in the middle of the mountains.”