Diet of raspberry, buckthorn suggests herd still abundant
The Hamilton Conservation Authority is still awaiting the results of last month’s aerial deer count in the Dundas Valley, but the recent native hunt and a less finicky diet suggest their numbers haven’t changed greatly since a previous survey.
Paul Williams, a member of the Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority, said deer still appeared to be plentiful even through hunters only killed 37 in eight weeks, well shy of the limit of 80 but six more than the previous year.
“They didn’t have the sense there were fewer deer,” he said of hunters. “They had the sense there were warier deer, which is a good thing.”
A 2009 aerial survey counted 505 deer in the valley, or nearly 300 more than the Ministry of Natural Resources considers ecologically desirable.
Authority terrestrial ecologist Lesley McDonell said although she doesn’t yet have any “solid results” from this year’s helicopter count, there are other signs of an abundant deer population in the valley and at Iroquoia Heights.
These include notable differences between vegetation inside and outside fenced study areas that deer can’t access, as well as their grazing diet, she said in a presentation to authority directors.
“They are starting to feed on stuff that they really don’t really like very much – black raspberry and buckthorn” McDonell said. “It’s not their favourite stuff to eat, but that’s becoming browsed heavily along with all their other preferred species.”
Williams said the Haudenosaunee hope to work with the authority, ministry and other partners to assess the deer population and its ecological impact before this fall’s hunt.
But he said the Haudenosaunee are in no hurry to reach the annual kill limit of 80 because they want to hunt responsibly.
Hunters are also still becoming familiar with deer and the designated area – bounded by Powerline, Martin, Jerseyville and Paddy Green roads.
“We’ve got the time to move gradually and gradually upwards,” Williams said. “We’d rather be safe and lethal than have a bunch of wounded deer running around or have any resident or somebody getting hurt,” he said.
“We were very careful to use the most skilled hunters we’ve got and keep other people out. We were careful to instruct the hunters, ‘You do not take a shot unless you’re sure it’s a kill shot.’”
HCA chief administrative officer Chris Firth-Eagland said the first two hunts under a protocol stuck in 2011 have strengthened the relationship with the Haudenosaunee by developing trust, respect and better communication.
“We have not experienced a downside,” he said, welcoming efforts to collaborate and share information on the deer population and how best to manage it.
“There is such potential for us to work together, better understand the issues and to improve our relationships over the very long term.”