Damage to lilacs prompts talks with Haudenosaunee
The Royal Botanical Gardens is considering allowing a Dundas Valley native deer hunt to expand onto its lands to protect its world-renowned lilac collection.
Chief executive officer Mark Runciman said the RBG is studying all options to stop an overpopulation of deer from damaging the lilac garden and other valuable plant collections because efforts to date have failed.
He said staff has held discussions with the Hamilton Conservation Authority about extending the annual Haudenosaunee hunt to RBG lands, but any decision to do so will require approval from the board of directors.
Both the Dundas Valley and RBG have an overabundance of deer, according to surveys in recent years, including an on-the-ground count by 15 RBG volunteers and staff in February that spotted 162 on the north and south shores of Cootes Paradise.
“It really is a regional issue. That’s part of the discussions that we’re having, that maybe we can address this as a group and attack it that way,” Runciman said.
“But we’re just in preliminary discussions. It’s obviously a very sensitive issue, too, a very tricky one.”
Runciman said deer are in all garden areas and the RBG is considering other approaches, like more fencing and noisemakers. It’s already tried using dogs to scare away deer and geese.
“The easy answer is to put an eight-foot fence around everything,” but doing so would be prohibitively expensive and detract from the gardens’ aesthetic value, he said, citing the lilac garden as the biggest concern.
“Last year when there was a drought and there were green leaves on the lilacs, they definitely were going after them and eating them,” Runciman said.
“But the damage is also done where they brush the branches,” he said. “They like the fact that the lilacs bend when they brush up against them.”
The Dundas Valley hunt, in its third year, is expected to start in the third week of November and run for a total of eight weeks, with a break over the Christmas holidays.
Chris Firth-Eagland, the conservation authority’s chief administrative officer, said he’s had a number of meetings with RBG staff about expanding the hunt because of the damage being done to the lilac collection, one of the world’s most diverse.
RBG staff have also met with the Haudenosaunee and been provided with the hunt protocol negotiated with the authority, he said.
Until now, the hunt has been confined to the area bounded by Powerline, Martin, Jerseyville and Paddy Green roads in Ancaster.
An aerial survey in February counted 266 deer in an 880-hectare section of the Dundas Valley, about double the number the Ministry of Natural Resources considers ecologically desirable.
A similar survey in January 2009 counted 267 deer in three wooded areas on RBG lands, or between six and nine times the number the provincial agency deemed desirable.
Last year’s valley hunt killed 37 deer, six more than the year before but well shy of a limit of 80. The Haudenosaunee have agreed to not use shotguns this year to lessen the impact on neighbours.