When I first arrived on Mayne I was enthralled to see so many deer wandering along the island roads and paths. They are beautiful animals, and they would stand and look at me with their big brown eyes as I took their photo. But I soon learned that the deer population had exploded on Mayne because of human intervention, causing terrible environmental destruction and harming the deer too. It’s a serious problem that can only be corrected with human involvement.

The combined browsing of overabundant blacktail deer and the introduced invasive fallow deer has impacted and continues to impact vital aspects of Mayne’s natural environment. Both species of deer are harming many plant, bird, animal, and pollinator species, with the fallow deer being especially destructive. Decreases in songbird diversity and abundance have been linked to overabundant populations of deer.

The impacts of deer overpopulation go far beyond our garden boundaries.

Sword fern, salal, and Oregon grape are low on the list of plants deer prefer to eat, so when you see these being eaten, it means all the deer’s preferred foods are already gone. Arbutus and Garry oak seedlings that begin to grow are also sought out by the deer and eaten, threatening the long-term existence of these trees and the animals that rely on them. Generations of new trees have been lost to Mayne’s overabundant deer. To learn more, read our article about deer overbrowsing.

Too many deer are also bad for the deer.

While overabundant deer have created one of the most serious ecological problems facing Mayne, having too many deer is also bad for the deer. As preferred food becomes scarce, especially in dry summers and cold winters, the deer are forced to eat less nutritious plants and their health suffers, causing them to be in poor condition and hence susceptible to disease, parasites, and extremes of weather.

Highly concentrated deer populations also have higher rates of disease transmission than would occur under the lower densities of an in-balance population, one that would historically have been kept in balance by large predators such as cougars and wolves.

In the absence of natural predators, critical action is needed to restore balance.

As we have reported previously, the Mayne Island Conservancy has been advocating for the provincial government to take that action. The government of BC has a responsibility to take leadership on this issue since it licensed the commercial operation of a fallow deer farm on Mayne in the 1990s and now that these deer are feral on the landscape, they are now considered provincial wildlife. Since the deer escaped from the farm, they have roamed and reproduced in great numbers. The result has been devastating. 

The Provincial Government knows that overabundant deer are a problem but choose not to take the necessary action to resolve it.   

The Conservancy will continue its advocacy on this issue using our local credibility and expertise to advise on the impact of overabundant deer on the environment. We are engaging with the community and local political leaders and are grateful for the support we have received from our local Island Trustees and our MLA all of whom recognize the seriousness of the problem. To learn more, read our letters and the government response.

It is critical to raise community awareness and support on this issue as our advocacy continues. If you are not a member of the Conservancy, please consider joining.  Also, share this article with your family, friends, and neighbours. And follow us on Facebook.

If you have any questions, comments or want to discuss this issue please email us at info@mayneconservancy.ca or give us a call (250) 539-2535.


Tom · September 3, 2022 at 2:07 pm

The deer issue is on many of our islands. Years ago we were on Haida Gwaii they have had the deer stripping everything below 7 feet. After years of logging and deer they realized that the nurse trees could not regenerate as all the sapling buds got eaten and therefore no new tree growth. UBC did a small case study on it and they proposed to fence the nurse trees/saplings like you do for your garden.

Julie Ireton · September 9, 2022 at 1:22 pm

Travelling along Fernhill in my vehicle, I was recently hit by a deer on my driver’s side. The damage from the impact made it difficult to open the car door. I was quite shaken, not realizing what had happened. A cyclist saw the entire sequence of events and let me know the deer quickly retreated into the trees. Despite having to pay my deductible for the car repairs, I am extremely grateful the deer missed my window. The outcome then could have been life altering. I now view the deer as being dangerous to our personal safety.

Marty Hykin · September 20, 2022 at 1:11 pm

How about inviting the Minister(s) responsible to a venison feast, or send packages of frozen venison to all the MLAs and Ministers. Seriously – The inability and refusal of this (and most other) government to act in harmony with well-understood rules by which nature operates is utterly dismaying. I think Mayne Islanders should simply put together a well-organized community hunt in Autumn while deer are in relatively good condition before Winter. Determine an optimum number that need to be culled, set up a temporary processing facility to butcher and freeze the product, and then distribute product within the bounds of existing laws. There may be some minor expense involved, i.e. renting freezer space or reefer trucks, hiring an accredited inspector if that is required. Money could be raised by selling subscriptions or memberships in a non-profit society established for the stated purpose of restoring optimum population levels suitable to your environment. Once that level is reached a contraceptive program might be set up to maintain it. Venison could then be given to society members or given to other people or organizations in need of food. None of these steps require levels of expertise, equipment, or finance that can not be found on or within easy reach of Mayne population. Just do it.

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