Deer kill may spur more breeding, zoologist contends MNR report supporting hunt lacks science, committee told
By RICHARD LEITNER, NEWS STAFF
Feb 23, 2011
There are many good reasons to leave the deer at Iroquoia Heights Conservation Area alone, a zoologist for a leading animal-welfare group says – including that they will just breed more if threatened by hunting.
Dr. David Lavigne, science advisor to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told a committee studying the situation that whether the area has too many deer is a value judgment, not a scientific one.
For that reason, he objects to York University forest ecologist Dawn Bazely’s recent assertion that support for a deer hunt must “overcome the emotionally rooted perception of deer as Bambi.” Lavigne said although Bazely’s assessment of the ecological impact of deer overpopulation is based in science, her conclusion that a hunt is necessary is no more scientific than an anti-hunt “wanted” poster featuring a frightened deer in gun sights.
Scientific discourse “It is full of emotional and political discourse, not scientific discourse,” he told the Hamilton Conservation Authority’s deer management advisory committee.
“People purporting to be scientists will accuse those who are defending the animals as being emotional. Well, humans are emotional, but I don’t think Bambi lovers are any more or less emotional than those who promote culling.” The Ministry of Natural Resources conducted an aerial survey in January 2009 that counted 102 in a 66-hectare section of Iroquoia Heights – 90 more than it considers healthy – and is recommending a cull.
In a presentation last October, Bazely told the committee it’s “not debatable” that deer populations of more than 10 per square kilometre kill future trees because they eat any new growth up to two metres above ground.
While she said any decision to kill deer to save trees is a value judgment, she also accused the Animal Alliance of Canada of exploiting the “Bambi” factor to oppose any hunt and of ignoring the damage deer are doing at Iroquois Heights.
Lavigne, a former University of Guelph zoology professor, said killing the deer may have unintended consequences, including that they will breed more if their numbers drop, requiring ongoing hunts to keep their population down.
But he also cautioned the committee against using a single survey to justify the hunt, criticizing the MNR’s conclusion that failing to act will only see numbers rise.
“How can you talk about a population increase or increased damage when you haven’t established a baseline, collected a series of data points and done the analysis?” Lavigne said.
“This, I would argue, is not science.” Tony Perri, who lives in the area and sits on the authority’s board of directors, said he agrees whether or not to allow a hunt is a value judgment, but his decision will be based on what’s best for humans.
He said there may be ways to avoid a hunt, like better lighting on dark stretches of road where they pose a traffic hazard, but public safety is his priority.
“I can live with them eating my vegetables and I don’t have a vegetable garden anymore.
We still get excited when one of the kids says, ‘Oh, there’s a deer in the backyard.’ Everybody jumps up,” Perri said.
“What I don’t want on my conscience is some parent saying to me the worst thing happened because you guys didn’t do anything about the deer overpopulation.” The conservation authority is seeking the public’s input on the deer debate, including through surveys mailed to about 400 homes in the immediate vicinity of Iroquoia Heights.
The survey is available online at http://www.conservationhamilton.ca/iroquoia- heights-community-survey.