Background

The Gulf Islands are home to populations of native Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) and, in some cases, introduced fallow deer (Dama dama).  Due to the near-extirpation of native predator populations (including wolves, cougars, and bears) from the islands, and decreasing human hunting pressure over the past century, local deer populations have expanded to historically unprecedented levels.  The issue of hyper-abundant island deer populations has been recognized by researchers, local governments (including the CRD), and community organizations.  There is broad consensus in the scientific literature that unchecked populations of herbivores have negative cascading impacts on their ecosystems, leading to measurable declines in habitat quality, biodiversity, sensitive species, and the health of herbivore populations themselves.  This effect is even more pronounced on islands, such as Galiano. A series of studies conducted here on the Southern Gulf Islands has identified significant negative impacts of hyber-abundant deer on wildflower growth and reproduction, songbird abundance, and tree regeneration. Social impacts include agricultural losses, browsing in gardens, and vehicular collisions.    

Native deer populations also provide important ecosystem services, as well as social, cultural, and spiritual benefits – in other words, we islanders love deer!  The Penelakut have traditionally hunted deer on Galiano and other Gulf Islands for thousands of years, and they remain important cultural and ceremonial foods. Venison represents a unique local source of high-quality protein for island communities, which currently import the vast majority of their food requirements. By ethically and humanely hunting deer in a good way, taking care to respect the animals and make use of every part, we can reduce the negative consequences of hyperabundance while also strengthening the conservation values of our protected areas and feeding people!  

This year, the Islands Trust declared a climate emergency.  At current low levels of harvest, the deer populations of the islands will continue to have negative impacts on ecosystems.  By managing island deer populations through community-based hunting, we can 

(a)  reduce our reliance on industrial meat products, and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production and transport, and

 (b)  enhance the natural regeneration of our forest ecosystems and plant communities, increasing the carbon sequestration capacity of our communities. 

Coupled with reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and overconsumption, these actions would represent a significant contribution to addressing the climate crisis at a local level.

What the Galiano Conservancy is doing

In order to address the negative impacts of deer hyper-abundance, the Galiano Conservancy is doing the following:

(a) Fencing our restoration sites to exclude deer and allow for plant regeneration

(b) Setting up and monitoring permanent 10m x 10m deer exclosures, as well as control plots, in order to better understand the effects of excessive deer browsing across a range of ecosystem types and successional stages

(c) Coordinating with local researchers and managers to take advantage of the best available science

(d) Public education to increase community investment and involvement in stewarding our local ecosystems and deer populations

If you have questions or feedback, please get in touch: restoration@galianoconservancy.ca

Feed the People workshop

On December 7, 2019, participants from across the Gulf Islands and adjacent communities came together to learn how to process native black-tail deer from Penelakut knowledge-holders Karen Charlie, Richard Charlie, Stephen Sylvester, Janzen Edwards, and Nicole Edwards.

The deer had been taken the day before at the Galiano Conservancy’s Millard Learning Centre, which, like much of the Southern Gulf Islands, has deer in historically unprecedented high densities. Workshop participants were led through skinning, de-boning, butchering, grinding, and making sausages from the meat. Participants each got to take home some meat for the freezer, and the remaining ‘harvest’ was donated to the Galiano Community Food Program.

The workshop was a huge success, and we look forward to organizing similar programming in the near future.

The workshop was organized and made possible by the Galiano Conservancy Association, the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resource Centre; the Galiano Community Food Program; and the Access to Media Education Society. Special thanks to Deblekha Guin and Laurene Stephanyk for the background organizing, and Chris Heffley for the excellent photos and graphic design.

Further Reading

Arcese, P., et al. “Deer Density and Plant Palatability Predict Shrub Cover, Richness, Diversity and Aboriginal Food Value in a North American Archipelago.” Diversity and Distributions, vol. 20, no. 12, Nov. 2014, pp. 1368–1378.

Capital Regional District. Regional Deer Management Strategy. 2012. Available at: https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/regional-planning-pdf/Regional-Deer-Management/regional-deer-management-strategy-recommendations.pdf?sfvrsn=a9c78ec9_0

Coastal Douglas-Fir Conservation Partnership (CDFCP). Conservation Strategy. 2015. Available at: http://www.cdfcp.ca/attachments/CDFCP_CS_2015.pdf

Côté, Steeve D., et al. “Ecological Impacts of Deer Overabundance.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, vol. 35, no. 1, 2004, pp. 113–147.

Gonzales, Emily K., and Peter Arcese. “Herbivory More Limiting Than Competition On Early And Established Native Plants In An Invaded Meadow.” Ecology, vol. 89, no. 12, 2008, pp. 3282–3289.

Gonzales, Emily K., and David R. Clements. “Plant Community Biomass Shifts in Response to Mowing and Fencing in Invaded Oak Meadows with Non-Native Grasses and Abundant Ungulates.” Restoration Ecology, vol. 18, no. 5, 2010, pp. 753–761.

Islands Trust Fund. Regional Conservation Plan 2018-2027. 2018. 146 pp. Available at http://www.islandstrustconservancy.ca/media/84722/rcp-final-web-mar-27.pdf. 

Martin, Tara G., et al. “Browsing down Our Natural Heritage: Deer Impacts on Vegetation Structure and Songbird Populations across an Island Archipelago.” Biological Conservation, vol. 144, no. 1, 2011, pp. 459–469.

Martin, Tara G., et al. “Prior Information Reduces Uncertainty about the Consequences of Deer Overabundance on Forest Birds.” Biological Conservation, vol. 165, 2013, pp. 10–17.

Underhill, Rob. (November 15, 2019). Ecological Impacts of Deer Overpopulation on Mayne Island. Available at: https://mayneconservancy.ca/ecological-impact-of-deer-overpopulation-on-mayne-island/


Wikeem, B., and S. Wikeem. 2005. Impacts of Browsing on Key Wildlife Shrubs in British Columbia and Recommendations for their Use. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC.  Wildlife Working Report No. WR 114.