Deer culling is a notorious debate that seemingly pits moral and ethical impetus against practical and convenient reasoning. It’s simply a question of which side of the deer fence you’re on. However despite the polemic dispute, Penticton City Council has approved a deer cull as part of an urban deer management program. Public education, ongoing monitoring, consultation and a ban on public feeding of deer are to follow in suit accordingly. Although the date of the cull has yet to be set, the issue lingers in the gray matter of the debate itself. Quantification is clearly lacking, and the want of accurate numerical data not only directly affects budget costs, but also the accuracy of population control by numbers. And while it is true some Penticton residents will feel relief by way of their private gardens and undamaged cedar hedges, the culling will nevertheless fall short of our ethical and moral accountability.
Deer culling is a drastic step, argued by many to be cruel and barbaric. Trapped in a cage by night, often struggling and kicking, deer frequently fracture limbs and sustain other injuries before they are shot in the head with a bolt gun. Captive bolt guns however, were designed for use on restrained domestic animals, typically in slaughterhouses, and were not, under any circumstances, intended for use on wild animals. While the bolt cannot effect a clean kill when the animal is not placed in a single-fire lane, restrained, with it’s head immobilized, a misplaced bolt can therefore painfully injure, necessitating the need for multiple attempts. If “swift” and “certain” define in part, what it means to bring about a humane end to wildlife via population control, then the humaneness of the trap and bolt technique is seriously questionable. And yet, for most of us, to cull or not to cull is simply a question of out of sight out of mind.
The deer cull, which was primarily initiated following 42 reports of urban deer sightings by residents to the City Hall, (the majority of which bordered on agricultural areas), fails to act on proportional representation, and does not seem to factor in the consideration of human overpopulation, urban sprawl and destruction of wildlife habitats. Likewise, the culling unintentionally localizes responsibility among specific property owners, potentially creating personal animosity among members within the community. On the other hand, the growing number of wayward wandering urban deer does in fact contribute to a rising increase in altercations between individuals and deer, pet animals and deer, attracts a range of other wildlife including coyotes, cougars and ticks, and makes driving more hazardous. Therefore, despite the city’s inability to generate substantial numbers in order to understand the scale of such implications and their impact, the shortlist is enough to sustain a call to action. Yet emphasis on ethical and moral integrity should not be displaced when considering such policies for human, animal and environmental protection. Hence the question becomes more distinguishable: why not seriously explore a cohesive ongoing program and non-lethal alternatives and interventions to address human/deer conflicts?
First and foremost, a one-time cull may not solve the problem. While the net-and-bolt tactic would most likely not reduce the size of the herd down to the desirable number, complaints to the city would therefore continue. Consequently an annual cull might be required, in which yearly controversy on the issue would be hard pressing upon City Council, and residents may not have the stomachs for the unremitting slaughter. Contrariwise, a non-lethal approach would help to integrate ethical and moral responsibility into the decision-making process, potentially reducing the polemical aspect of the debate itself, while providing Council with a program to help address complaints. Some of the components of an ongoing preventable program include: moving deer from the area, excluding deer from conflict areas and from specific plants and bushes through fencing, (which provides a longer term solution to the impact of deer on landscaping and backyard gardens) the use of repellents to make plants less palatable and less desirable to deer, the use of deterrents such as sound and visual scare devices, as well as planting less palatable landscape plants. Lastly, one of the most ostensibly formidable non-lethal options available would be immunocontraception. This alternative approach would require a select number of deer to be hit with a dart every two years, containing a vaccine rendering the deer sterile. According to procedures of the new method of wildlife population control, animal marking would be synchronized with vaccine penetration, allowing experts to track and recognize which deer have been hit. Furthermore at $30 per dart, the cost of immunocontraception would be significantly less than any form at lethal control, which for the city of Penticton would require $150 per deer culled. Immunocontraception thus appears to be the more “humane” and cost-effective method of wildlife control.
So when reviewing the hot topic of debate this week: to cull or not to cull, the interrogation, it seems, claws at the heart of two imposing philosophies. While one apparently supports a more tactile, less costly and humane approach, the other seemingly provides a tangible short-term eradication. Therefore as a collective community we should then ask ourselves: what are we truly looking for? Delayed gratification, or instant satisfaction with the tailing potential for prolonged problems? Penticton is a favorite destination for all sorts of people from all walks of life from all around the world. Situated in the heart of BC’s wild southern interior, Penticton is not only a picturesque place to live, but remains a refuge for a wide range of Canada’s most extraordinary wildlife without which we would be indistinguishable, empty and forlorn. As residents and inhabitants of this spectacular landscape, we are entrusted by its nature, to preserve, protect and respect the beauty and sanctity of its wisdom and love, in which it has always given back absolutely. Deer culling is like a gateway drug to bigger and more grotesque reckonings. What’s next, soylent green? Let’s replace the “out of sight out of mind” with “in your right mind” and approach this problem with steadfast moral and ethical sensibilities, long-term solutions and peaceful, harmonious resolve.