It was standing room only at the District of Invermere’s Tuesday night council meeting, as more than 30 people packed chambers to comment on the decision to cull about 100 urban deer.
At its previous meeting, council had agreed to budget up to $35,000 for the project. The decision followed up one made late last summer, when the previous council decided to deal with habituated deer using a number of measure such as culling, relocation, and eventual fencing of the community.
The animals will be killed using clover traps and bolt guns provided by the B.C. provincial government, which are expected to come to Invermere some time in February, once Kimberley’s own 100-deer cull wraps up.
Opposition to the local cull — the third in this region — has been on the rise in recent weeks, with Facebook groups such as ‘Stop the Slaughter of Invermere’s Urban Deer‘ attracting several hundred members.
But the wall-to-wall crowd at the meeting offered a more even split of views, with residents sharing both deer horror stories and animal cruelty concerns.
AGENDA TAKES A BACK SEAT FOR MOST
While deer dominated the night, the animals themselves had little to do with council’s agenda, which contained mostly motions to waive fees at the community hall and some discussion about strategic priorities for the year. Only three audience members had signed up to come to council as delegations, Marie Pike, Doug Trask and Josh Page.
Pike and Trask, presenting together, told council they didn’t think there had been enough public discussion on the cull, and made the first of several pitches to put the issue to the town directly.
“A decision of this importance should be left up to all citizens with a vote or referendum,” said Pike.
“Culling the town deer puts a bad taste in my mouth. Those who cannot coexist with wildlife should consider moving to a bigger city.”
Pike also criticized the timing of the cull — which will be the first direct action Invermere has taken on the issue, aside from making feeding deer a ticket-able offence. “To me (a cull) would be the last resort,” she said.
Page, meanwhile, told council he had come forward to defend the cull after his own experiences with aggressive deer, including multiple attacks on his two large dogs and incidents where he and his girlfriend had to chase deer off with golf clubs and a lawn mower.
“I understand most people haven’t had these experiences that I’ve had, at least not yet,” he said, estimating he’s had at least 20 run-ins with the animals since moving to his current home on 13th Street. “That doesn’t mean it won’t start happening to more people.”
TOO SOON OR JUST IN TIME?
The public comment period at the end of the meeting saw a similar debate bubble up.
Monie Rahman — who compared the cull to the Holocaust and district council to Hitler at a meeting earlier this month — led off the session. After a prolonged argument with mayor Gerry Taft, a visibly agitated Rahman yelled, “do not vilify the deers.”
The trio of citizens who followed her, however, painted a sinister picture of the animals.
Dr. Ian White talked about his own experiences trying to deter the deer from coming into his yard.
“We have gone through the documents you posted and we’ve tried everything with the exception of an eight by 10 fence,” he said. “We’ve used multiple deer removing devices. We’ve used sound devices which do nothing but scare away our neighbours.”
White said he’s also tried planting deer resistant plants, which were eaten. When he’s tried to shoo deer away himself, “they turn on me.”
Alita Bentley also spoke in favour of the cull, and told council her children are “terrified” of deer.
“As a mother I feel the deer are in an unnatural place right now, and it will be a child that is attacked next,” she said. “I don’t care if they eat my plants… this is an issue concerning the safety of the citizens.”
“I want to compliment council on making a very tough decision,” added Dwayne Cameron, who said he’d noticed deer becoming more aggressive over time.
“I hope you follow through with it and won’t be swayed,” he added.
Carol Gordon added to the anti-cull side’s cry for more public input on the issue and again asked council to hold a referendum on the issue.
“I personally have issues with disobedient and aggressive human beings, but we don’t go and kill them all,” she said.
Several other speakers argued council should find better solutions for dealing with the deer, including methods used in Banff and Canmore to deal with troublesome elk. But Taft said many of those methods were researched by Invermere’s Urban Deer Committee, which came up with the current cull and relocation plan, and they didn’t seem like a good fit for Invermere.
Another woman urged council to hold off on the cull and let the community brainstorm ideas instead. Councillor Spring Hawes and Taft said they’re hoping that will be a function of a new deer committee the district is putting together.
‘IT’S ON US’
After more speakers on both sides mayor Taft thanked the crowd for coming out, but council appeared to be standing firm on its decision.
“Lots of people have been asking us to wait,” said councillor Paul Denchuk. “This is my concern if we wait: public safety. I have a daughter… lots of people in this room have children. If any of them get stomped, it’s on us.”
Councillor Greg Anderson added he expects dealing with the town deer will take years, though he hopes the cull only has to happen once.
“It’s going to be a process,” he said. “This is a new baby for a lot of British Columbia,” he said. “We’ve got legislation, we’re going to do education, we’ve got planting. It’s all of that.”