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!)
What Drives Fear in Invermere; Why Kill Deer?
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
-The famed Broadway musical, South Pacific
I last blogged about canvasing the community of Invermere, British Columbia, population around 4,000, prior to a referendum that asked the overly-simplistic question: Should there be a cull of mule deer?
As I canvased, I was sometimes reminded of those lyrics when meeting people supportive of the cull. Chicken wire covered trees and plants, to protect them from deer; deer excrement was common; and deer often trotted into the roads. For many people, these are reasons to hate, and/or fear, deer.
Mule deer populations are alleged to be in decline in the forests of British Columbia, but are increasing in several communities. As I approached each resident, I was careful not to reveal my own view, saying I was trying to understand how people felt about the idea of killing deer. Mind you, this was not a scientific exercise, nor a poll. Indeed, a small majority of people with whom I spoke opposed culling—and yet, when the vote was held, a large majority voted for it.
Some people expressed a fear that a child would be killed. The fear originated, at least in part, from videos of deer attacking dogs. But, no one has ever been killed by a mule deer in all of Canada. Enforced leash laws, education about dogs and deer, and high garden fences would resolve these concerns; trapping deer and driving iron bolts into their brains would not. Some people mentioned concern of “disease,” although the deer that I saw appeared to be in good health.
But, we are also taught from a young age that humans are the superior species. Deer are “supposed” to flee.
The pro-cull faction generally shared a suite of characteristics, including an unwillingness to listen to any other view. Often they were angry, a few to the point of rudeness. Some did not want to kill deer, but believed that the only solution to the problem was to cull. Some were surprised to learn that it would cost more than $600.00 per deer, based on the costs of other culls.
But, they didn’t understand that culling has proved ineffective. After culling was tried in Cranbrook, the number of deer did not decrease. And, I would think that would be true for Invermere, surrounded by viable deer habitat. One guy said to me, “Yeah, but I have to see that for myself.”
So, if it doesn’t work, why cull? There are many reasons, though none very savory. Culling’s main function is, I believe, to allow municipal politicians to assure constituents that something is being done. But, most constituents lack knowledge about wildlife population dynamics, animal behavior, or basic ecology.
Too many deer; kill some off; problem solved.
I’d imagine that many constituents have never heard of the rebound effect or compensatory survival increases, and people who broach these topics are judged to be too abstract, academic, and elitist to heed. Culling prevents having to research basic questions about deer behavior. Wildlife biologists can’t even account for the declines in deer in the forests, even though they have studied deer for decades.
I also think that culling appeals to the more atavistic desires some people have to “punish” the animals for daring to occupy “their” town, their gardens. How dare they!
My hope is that enlightenment will strike Invermere council, and they will educate both themselves and their townsfolk; my fear is that such enlightenment is a long way off, and that culling will remain the expensively inefficient path of least resistance. And Invermere, all the more special for the deer one sees in the streets—the thing that appeals to compassionate tourists and residents—will become less appealing, fouled by the blood of innocent, beautiful animals killed… and people will continue to be taught to fear and hate.