The provincial government has promised to help deal with deer in response to pleas from municipal leaders around B.C.

Responding to recommendations made by the Union of BC Municipalities, the province promised to create a Provincial Urban Deer Advisory Committee and provide up to $100,000 for future urban deer management operations.

“The creation of an urban deer advisory committee will help ensure greater collaboration between municipalities and the Government of B.C. and provide the resources necessary for communities to make informed choices about how to resolve urban deer issues,” said Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

A January workshop with the province laid the groundwork for an increased awareness and understanding of policy, legislation, regulation and best practices in urban deer management.

“I’m grateful to minister Thompson and his staff for responding so positively to the requests that a group of mayors put forward, with UBCM,” said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

The announcement last week highlighted two key elements for Jensen.

“It’s an acceptance by the province that they have a duty and a responsibility to deal with the problem of deer in our communities. … These are provincial deer. They come under their jurisdiction,” he said. “It also accepts the principle that consultation with local government is a key to finding a sustainable deer management solution. The creation of the provincial urban deer advisory committee is an important acceptance of this principle.”

The forum in January came just before Oak Bay took its final step in a pilot project as part of the Regional Deer Management Strategy – a cull. Council here and around the region have long called for leadership from the province.

“Work by our council and UBCM in conjunction with other municipalities got us to where we are today,” Jensen said.

“This is a first step. The amount is not as important as the acceptance of the principle.”

In Oak Bay, the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society formed following last year’s cull as a local, citizen-led non-profit society to help provide Oak Bay with an alternative solution and to help with public education and human-deer conflict-reduction strategies.

“The UWSS is really happy that the province is going to be providing some leadership and funding for the management of urban deer,” said Kristy Kilpatrick, UWSS vice-president.

“We’re especially pleased to see that they are including research projects as part of deer management. The UWSS has been calling for science-based solutions to deer population issues, in particular immuno-contraception, as a long-term and sustainable solution.”

UWSS plans to gather data alongside its contraception program, such as multiple deer counts over the course of a year to provide information on numbers and deer movement patterns.

“While the UWSS agrees that the province is ultimately responsible for deer, there needs to be regional coordination and long-term planning for deer management, and municipalities such as Oak Bay must still undertake responsibility for public education in their communities on ways to co-exist with deer, as deer will always be a part of the natural urban environment,” Kilpatrick said.

“Human-deer conflict reduction strategies such as enforcement of no-feeding deer bylaws, appropriate signage, speed enforcement and other measures need to be implemented and sustained over a long period of time.”

The Regional Deer Management Strategy, that ended with culls in Oak Bay and on the Saanich Peninsula, emerged from safety concerns over rising deer populations, ranging from feces and ticks carried by the animals, to deer/human conflict.

The briefing held at the annual UBCM convention last week, where local leaders learned of the commitment by the province, re-affirmed for Jensen how widespread the rising deer population concern is.

“We even had a councillor from Pitt Meadows join us at the briefing. She indicated this was an emerging concern from her community,” Jensen said, noting deer populations in urban settings are an issue right across the province.

Details on how the funding will be made available will be worked out in consultation with the Urban Deer Advisory Committee, once it is formed. Any project would require review and permitting by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, in accordance with the Wildlife Act.