BC SPCA Stance on the Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project
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BC SPCA Stance on the Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project

December 19, 2023

Update: A project summary regarding Phase 1 of the program is now available on the Parks Canada website.

Original story November 17, 2023

Deer management in B.C. is complex. It is regulated by the Provincial government under the Wildlife Act, while the Federal government manages deer on federal lands such as national parks. Local governments can also take actions to manage deer feeding and control in their communities. Further, Indigenous people have the right to practice their culture as it relates to the use of animals, free of discrimination or interference, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Many controversial deer management plans have been proposed in B.C., including several communities choosing to cull deer despite a lack of credible scientific evidence to support it. The BC SPCA is opposed to culling animals when there is no evidence to support it but can’t prevent a legally permitted cull from happening.

In the case of Oak Bay and other urban deer culls of non-hunted populations, the BC SPCA advised and promoted non-lethal methods, including contraception, as the goal was not to remove deer entirely from the landscape but to reduce conflicts. However, it is important to distinguish the difference between a cull and an eradication. For clarity, a cull is a temporary reduction that removes some of the population, and an eradication is a complete removal of the population.

Close-up of one fallow deer in a herd.

What is the Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project?

The Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project is a multi-jurisdictional restoration project that aims to assist in the long-term recovery of the Coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem on Sidney Island. The project has several partners, including Parks Canada, the Province of B.C., Islands Trust Conservancy, Sidney Island residents, W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, Pauquachin First Nation, and Tsawout First Nation. Project partners have been working together to resolve the over-browsing pressure from introduced European fallow deer and restore Sidney Island ecology. Active hunting of the deer population by First Nations and some private residents of the island has failed to allow ecological recovery.

The project’s many tactics include the eradication of fallow deer, removing key invasive plant species, planting and supporting native plants, biodiversity monitoring, and a long-term management plan for sustained ecological recovery. Animal welfare has been a project priority from the outset, and although it was not required to involve the BC SPCA, Parks Canada has invited BC SPCA subject-matter experts to review operational plans and attend on-site.

Herd of fallow deer on Sidney Island
Fallow deer on Sidney Island (May 2008). Photo credit: Parks Canada

What is the BC SPCA’s involvement?

The BC SPCA’s Science & Policy team includes various experts in animal welfare, wildlife biology, and government relations. We actively ask all levels of government to be included in decision-making that impacts the lives of animals. As part of our work to improve the lives of animals and communities, we provide evidence-based recommendations on relevant animal welfare policies and practices.

The BC SPCA is not a partner in the Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project but has been consulted by Parks Canada on this project since 2017. BC SPCA wildlife biologists have also been invited to attend several days of the operation to observe eradication activities and provide feedback on any concerns to project veterinarians, wildlife biologists and other officers responsible for program operations.

What is the issue with fallow deer?

European fallow deer were first introduced to James Island in the early 1900s for hunting purposes. Further introductions occurred on Sidney Island in the mid-1900s, and fallow deer were considered established in the 1980s. Since then, fallow deer have degraded the island’s Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem.

The Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is one of the most biodiverse and endangered in Canada. On Sidney Island, this ecosystem is under threat. Fallow deer compete with native black-tailed deer for resources and impact biodiversity by over-browsing native plants. Fallow deer have also had significant cultural impacts. The ecological damage to the forest understory and diminished biological diversity has impacted the availability of foods and medicines for Indigenous people.

A comparison of the degraded forest understory on Sidney Island and healthy Coastal Douglas-Fir ecosystem on nearby Russell Island where fallow deer were not introduced taken in summer 2023.
A comparison of degraded forest understory on Sidney Island (left) and healthy Coastal Douglas-Fir ecosystem on nearby Russell Island where fallow deer were not introduced (right) taken in summer 2023. Photo credit: Parks Canada

Since the 1980s, approximately 10,000 fallow deer have been killed by recreational hunting, and culls have removed another 5,000 deer. Another cull is not what is being planned for this project, as past culls have only meant that the population rebounds at some point. This has resulted in a continuous cycle of killing through unlimited hunting and periodic culling repeated for decades. When deer numbers are high, as they have been in the past, the deer struggle to find adequate food on the island and are susceptible to starvation and disease.

Alternative methods to control the fallow deer population on Sidney Island, such as contraception or translocation, were also considered but are not feasible. Translocation is not an ecologically responsible or humane option, as the ecological impacts would simply be shifted elsewhere. Contraception is not a feasible tactic for removing a wildlife population, and retaining a fallow deer population on the island is not biologically sustainable. The presence of fallow deer would continue to prevent habitat restoration and other wildlife species from returning and thriving. Indefinite management of fallow deer would mean more deer suffering and being killed every year and would still not achieve the goal of long-term sustained ecological recovery.

Herd of fallow deer browsing in degraded habitat on Sidney Island. Captured on a wildlife camera on January 9, 2022. Photo credit: Parks Canada

Will eradication be humane?

International and BC SPCA experts agree that many steps must be taken to justify ethical wildlife control. Killing any animal is a serious action and needs to be viewed in the context of many different factors. As an animal welfare organization, the BC SPCA’s position on hunting, trapping and fishing as well as our position on humane killing guides our overall stance

In this case, project partners have used the International Consensus Principles for Ethical Wildlife Control in their approach to the project and the selection of eradication methods. Professional marksmen skilled in eradication are being deployed and will follow guidance from the Parks Canada Animal Care Committee and the Province’s veterinarians under the B.C. Wildlife Health Program. The BC SPCA also acknowledges the changes that project partners have made to operational plans based on feedback from our wildlife experts. 

For more information on the eradication methods being used, please contact Parks Canada. 

Fallow deer in herd.

What is the BC SPCA stance on the project?

The BC SPCA is not opposed to the eradication program given it is scientifically sound, supports reconciliation, will be conducted humanely and ethically, and will result in less animal suffering in the long term. 

The continuous cycle of recreational hunting and culls of fallow deer on Sidney Island over the past 40 years has not restored the island’s biodiversity to benefit other species or ecosystem recovery. The current proposal intends to end this ineffective killing cycle. The complete removal of deer now, while populations are low, through a one-time eradication program by professionals causes the least harm and ultimately reduces animal suffering and the number of animals negatively affected. 

If you have further questions, or to read more about the Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project, visit the Parks Canada project website for answers to frequently asked questions. 

For more information on the BC SPCA’s position, please email advocacy@spca.bc.ca.