by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Part 1: There's No Paradise on Earth, but...
When I drove into Invermere, population near 4,000, in the Columbia River Valley of the interior of British Columbia, I was both enchanted and worried. Animals totally fascinate me (and that includes human animals, as I’ll discuss in a future blog) and I greatly enjoy seeing them, drawing and painting them (I am a wildlife artist, too), photographing them, interacting with them, and being in their presence. It’s just the way I am; not everyone is like that. We’re all different. Diversity itself is as natural as a beaver’s dam, a robin’s song, or the wide-eyed, innocent expression of a baby screech-owl.
But, of course, the beaver’s dam may flood a roadway; the robin’s song may awaken an exhausted shift-worker; and there could be a trace of blood and fur or feathers on the beak of the baby owl. I get that.
Still, what I saw in Invermere was a community that I could envy, where a dusky grouse strode boldly up to us, where a pileated woodpecker met us near the door of a home we visited, and where mule deer wandered on lawns, in parks, and on sidewalks, even crossing roads.
We tend to think that wild animals “should” be afraid of us—should flee—and deer usually do, unless left alone. These deer were different (although not unlike mule deer I’ve seen in California). Indeed, I met my first mule deer when I was six years of age. She walked up to me at Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles, reached down, and chomped off the top half of the banana I was eating. Was I terrified? Nope. I ate the second half. But that’s me. I have touched a wild beluga whale, have had chickadees alight on my shoulder, and have had foxes, who have never met a human, trot up to give me a sniff. Animals fear us, but not necessarily instinctively; we give them ample reason.
I was in Invermere with my Toronto-based colleague, Liz White, to help support a “no” vote in a referendum that asked Invermere’s residents if the town’s deer should be baited to enter a large, square frame, where they would be trapped until men arrived to collapse the trap around them, holding the panicked, struggling animals down. Then, a metal bolt would be driven into their brains, sometimes after many botched tries—ultimately rendering them unconscious so that they could be bled from the back of a truck into a pail, until dead. (That’s not how the ballet was worded; it just asked if the deer should be culled.) Doing that would, citizens were told, prevent the things about deer that concerned them.
We tried to expose the truth, which is hard to do with a population that’s unaware of wildlife population dynamics, with both real and imagined concerns about the deer. With our colleagues, local citizens banded together as the Invermere Deer Protection Society (IDPS). We methodically canvased every part of town (about 1,000 houses), speaking to approximately 300 people about why culling does not work. It seemed that the majority of people supported us. But, when the vote was held on November 2, only 26% agreed with us and voted “no.”
Do we stop there? No. As I will explain in a future blog, the canvasing reinforced formal studies in why people act illogically. Based on figures from the cull in Cranbrook (see here and here), it’ll cost the good folks of Invermere more than $600 per deer removed, with, as I suspect they will discover, no significant improvement.
Luckily, the referendum is not binding. So, we have something to build on: a means to show a less costly and more effective suite of options. The night of the poll, we were already planning for the work ahead—and, by the next morning, we had already met with IDPS members to strategize.