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 firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call (250) 539-2535.