Survey shows dip in numbers now that ‘candy store’s gone’
A decision to put off a deer hunt at Iroquoia Heights Conservation Area to allow for more study of population trends appears to have paid off, at least in the short term.
Chris Firth-Eagland, chief administrative officer for the Hamilton Conservation Authority, said an aerial survey at the Ancaster park in February spotted 58 deer, down considerably from one in 2009, when 102 were counted.
He said the lower numbers likely reflect successful efforts to dissuade people from putting out feed in the 66-hectare area and a lack of snow cover during a mild winter that made deer less prone to herd at Iroquoia Heights.
“They have dispersed because there’s no real juicy reason for them to be there,” Firth-Eagland said, citing past problems with neighbours putting out cabbage, apples, carrots, hay and other food for the deer.
“Iroquoia Heights is a small piece of how far they can travel,” he said. “I think it’s reversed itself to a more normal state of affairs, as to where they’re living, what they’re feeding on. The candy store’s gone.”
Liz White, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada and a member of an advisory committee that recommended holding off on a hunt at Iroquoia Heights, said she’s not surprised by the drop in deer numbers based on her experiences elsewhere.
“In every town that I’ve been involved with where they’ve actually culled deer, the numbers have essentially remained about the same because new deer come in,” she said.
“But in circumstances where you just remove the feed, it doesn’t support the numbers in that kind of density. I suspect that’s true in Iroquoia Heights, too.”
The encouraging news at Iroquoia Heights comes as the authority prepares to finalize an agreement on a third successive native hunt in the Dundas Valley expected to start the third week of November.
Firth-Eagland said February’s aerial survey of the valley found a less significant drop in deer from 2009, when there were 505, or nearly 300 more than the Ministry of Natural Resources considers ecologically desirable.
This year’s version counted 266 deer in an area that was about two-thirds the size of the one surveyed back then – still about double the desireable number.
Firth-Eagland said this year’s hunt will be less intrusive because the Haudenosaunee won’t be using shotguns. Last year’s hunt killed 37 deer over eight weeks, well shy of a limit of 80 but six more than the previous year.
He said he believes the native hunt plays a small role in reducing the herd in the valley, with legal hunting on private land being the most significant factor.
Illegal hunting is likely next, followed by vehicle and train collisions, and coyotes, he said.
“I’d say that the taking of 37 by the Haudenosaunee is down near the bottom,” he said. “Whether we want lots of deer removed or not – I’m not judging that from an ecological perspective – those are just the trends and issues that I’ve come to appreciate.”
But White said she believes the 37 deer killed in last year’s hunt is still a significant number and questions why the authority doesn’t take the same approach to the Dundas Valley as at Iroquoia Heights.
“You take a group of deer, you remove attractants and the numbers go down. You take a group of deer, you don’t change anything, you put a bunch of hunters in there and the numbers don’t go down,” she said.
“On the face of it, non-lethal measures work better than lethal measures.”
Firth-Eagland said he isn’t interested in challenging the Haudenosaunee’s treaty rights to hunt in the valley, including because the two sides have been able to work through any concerns and developed mutual trust and respect.
He expects to present an agreement on this year’s hunt to the Nov. 7 meeting of authority directors for approval.
“It’s working very well. I make no judgment on whether or not deer should be harvested in the conservation area,” Firth-Eagland said.
“That’s an entirely different subject matter because there are anti-hunting groups and there are citizens who want the deer numbers reduced because of damages to their properties.”