Tag Archives: “Ministry of Natural Resources”

The Devastating Effects of Hunting and Poaching In Short Hills Provincial Park

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George Catlin - National Museum of Wildlife Art

George Catlin – National Museum of Wildlife Art

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

In the hierarchy of public lands, parks are the most special places, where nature and all its associated diversions – quiet streams, the scents of the forest after a rain, and the occasional sightings of deer and other animals – are sacrosanct.

George Catlin, a painter of native American art, experienced  the western Great Plains when it was untouched by extensive American development. While witnessing the beauty of this land, he wrote, “…what a beautiful and thrilling specimen….. to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world in future ages!  A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty.”

Hunting methods have changed a lot since Catlin painted his scenes of bison hunts.  No longer are many  parks primarily left relatively undisturbed  to preserve and protect natural resources but now they must be the venue for a vast array of harmful activities.

The Short Hills Park in the Niagara Peninsula is being destroyed not only by the sanctioned Haudenosaunee native deer hunt each year, but also by illegal and off-Shorthills1seasoned hunting. Poaching and the fear and disruption it causes compromises animals’ normal eating habits, making it harder for them to store the fat and energy they need to survive the winter. The hunt has also devastated the entire community and left residents constantly on edge,  long after the official hunt is over.  Horses live on the outskirts of the park as well, making the park perimeter a dangerous place due to the continual presence of poachers.

Disinterested indentured public servants in the Ministry of Natural Resources have no apparent interest in overseeing the parks. With budgets for maintenance exhausted on the private exploitation of the park, Short Hills is essentially abandoned without oversight. When vegetation is destroyed by 4WD vehicles, plant vigor and regeneration is reduced, ground cover is deteriorated, and there can be a change in species composition.  Inappropriate behaviours such as littering and other depreciative uses add to the degradation of the park.

Shorthills2While the MNR is busy circulating social memes to discourage the use of bird feeders by private citizens, they have no comment on the garbage accumulating in the park.  If bird feeders can attract bears, why is nothing done about garbage in the environmentally significant Fonthill Kame Moraine?  Not only that, gut piles and the remainders of deer carcasses can attract bears,  and are disturbing reminders of this cruel hunt.  Even if one is not in the park to poach deer, the condition of some trails and presence of trash do not inspire visitors to pack out all their garbage.  Perhaps the MNR will have to find space in their budget now to promote the seven principles of the “Leave No Trace” program?

Hunt supporters’ critique of the anti-hunt protesters at Short Hills has often focused on what they claim is the “unacknowledged racism” of nearby “NIMBY do-gooders” as the motivating factors in our protests.  Acrimonious counter-campaigns by hunt supporters seem to have at their core the presumption that protected public lands are there for individual use however they see fit and it is racist to suggest otherwise.   The reality is that vigilant neighbours  are good indicators of a great community.  A population of people like the anti-hunt demonstrators is actually among the most valuable resources a neighbourhood can have.

And it’s always “someone’s backyard” isn’t it?

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Disclosed Short Hills Park Hunting Documents Continue To Disprove MNR Rhetoric

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deer-postcard-copyWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau, with files from the Short Hills Wildlife Alliance

The fractious first two days of the Short Hills hunt saw the life drained out of 18 deer on Saturday and 8 on Sunday. One deer was wounded on the first day and finally put out of its misery on the second day. The protesters maintained their composure despite the “rent-a-crowd” anti-protest protesters who have taken the low road by roughing up a demonstrator on November 14th. Despite the letter sent to Niagara Regional Police Services board by the Animal Alliance of Canada, there were two more incidences of unsecured weaponry by the hunters. The misconduct continued when a hunter’s vehicle made contact and pushed an anti-hunt protester while the MNR and OPP looked on distractedly, a demonstrator’s car was scratched, and a discarded sign was deliberately stuck to the side of an anti-hunt protester’s car. I’m sure that the police video will ferret out the culprit(s) responsible, since the entire demonstration is video taped all day long by the OPP and Niagara Regional Police.

With over 100 hunters entering the park in only two days, this hunt now bears more than a passing resemblance to the despised Florida bear hunt that left many young animals without their mothers. And like the Florida hunt, there are no limits on the number, sex, or age of the deer who will be killed – Short Hills park hunters are told they need not be “biased” in selecting an animal to kill based on age, giving free rein to the human tendency to exterminate everything that lacks a human face.  The Short Hills Wildlife Alliance continues to make good use of Access-To-Information documents, – the latest information shows that a high percentage of deer killed in previous hunts (2013 and 2014) were lactating females or were immature and under 1 year of age.

The Protocol Agreement – A Non-Binding,  Feel-Good Piece of Creative Writing

Yes – it’s exists, but after reading it one wonders why they even bothered to draft it at all. The word “harvest” or a variation of it was used 144 times in the above Protocol of 3,077 words. Of course, the hunting industry doesn’t like the word “kill” because it exposes the lie that animals die peacefully after being shot or otherwise tortured. Merely using the word “kill” also infers that there is no management of the hunt, while the term “harvest” has pleasant connotations of the nostalgic gathering of a crop that is planted and cultivated by continuous hard labour.   Of course, the hunters do nothing resembling care of this “crop.” Neither are the hunters collecting rainwater for irrigation or ripening turnips, although the hunt does bring to mind the image of a combine harvester and a crop of living animals that are simply mowed down. It’s just another level of duplicity used to get the public on board with having arrows fly through the park. Shame on the so-called animal rights activists who embrace this linguistic trickery…

 

 

From the Protocol:

Friendship is the new commandment here, where nothing is binding on the hunters and there are no penalties for non-compliance.  The designated hunt days can change at any time, which hardly seems safe given the number of entry points for the park and the lack of notice. Indeed, there’s not much that the hunters have to comply with at all – there is no “bag limit” on the number of deer that are to be killed and no limit to the number of hunters allowed in the park. And according to the MNR, securing bows is voluntary when convenient and therefore almost an afterthought (It is actually a requirement of the Fish and Wildlife Act).

“In the interests of safety, when possible, all archery equipment should be unloaded and encased outside of the harvest hours or when outside the harvest zone.”

The protocol goes on to state that if permission to enter private property is denied by the property owner (in order to kill a wounded deer), it will be the responsibility of the property owner to dispose of the deer.  Why should a homeowner take responsibility and liability for a hunter to hunt on their property?  What is the plan in the event the homeowner isn’t home or doesn’t wish to allow access? Why should the homeowner bear the burden of euthanasia and deadstock removal if the deer is still alive and suffering? The suggestion that the homeowners must take ownership of wounded deer wouldn’t withstand any legal litmus test. The fact that the MNR have to include such language for the eventuality of wounded deer on private property (which has already occurred) is proof hunting in a park that boundaries an urban area is not appropriate.

MNRF and Haudenosaunee monitoring and observation have concluded that the deer population at Short Hills is significantly larger than the Park’s ecosystem can support in a balanced way. The biological diversity of the Park is being impacted.

Where is the substantiation for this claim? All deer examined in post-mortems appear to be of healthy weight and are apparently free of parasites and pathological conditions (at least none are mentioned in the access-to-information documents obtained by Short Hills Wildlife Alliance). What surveillance have the Haudenosaunee conducted of their own volition?

Both the Haudenosaunee and MNRF will provide first aid supplies. Each MNRF vehicle will carry a first aid kit. A first aid station will be maintained at the Park’s work centre on 1st Street Louth.”

Bandaids and Chapstick – clearly useful for those soft-tissue injuries you’ll suffer when the MNR tries to run you down. Bizarrely though, the MNR Protocol identifies a major safety concern as the “presence off a large number of people at or near the Pelham Road entrance…” Outside of the hunt itself, the other principal risks come from rage-o-holic MNR agents and rogue counter-protesters who attempt physical intimidation or participate in causing vehicular damage. On the other hand,  the anti-hunt protesters have maintained their composure – who among the them is going to get into an altercation with hunters who have unsecured weapons anyway?

Access-To-Information Data Reveal Many Immature Deer Harvested Killed

The observational data collected in two previous hunts is extremely useful for refuting several claims by the MNR that there is overpopulation in the park, or that there is great concern over the spread of Lyme disease. While Lyme surveillance is important and ongoing, there seems to be little risk with the disease in this geographical area, an observation that is supported by the fact that current surveillance programs have not identified Short Hills as an area of heightened risk.  Nor did the post-mortems indicate the presence of ticks or internal parasites.

Post Mortem Stats:

  • 52 deer examined before or after field dressing, by MNR staff
  • 13 of these deer were fawns
  • 12 deer weighed 90 lbs or less
  • Oldest deer estimated by be 7.5 years of age
  • Youngest deer estimated to be “0” age
  • Smallest deer was 66 lbs (about the weight of the average golden retriever)
  • 45% of does were in various stages of lactation
  • Several deer were close to or over 200 lbs.
  • No ticks were observed

Age and weight are very important data points because they provide an index of population size relative to the habitat carrying capacity. In the wild, deer usually live no more than 10 years. The Wood god kills rabbitsaverage age of the deer in the MNR’s data is lowered considerably due to the killing of fawns that otherwise would have lived a few more years.  The age of the oldest deer is a good indication that there is a desirable apex predator/prey balance in the park. In most species of deer, lactation, which is the most energetically demanding component of maternal care, continues for about 80-100 days after birth, which occurs in May/June. It continues until the next rut. Lactation data provides evidence that the doe raised one or more fawns and is an indicator of good overall reproductive health in the herd (versus starvation).  The Protocol describes the deer as an important source of food for the hunters, but how hungry do you have to be that you can’t walk away from a 66 lb fawn? This fawn, along with some of the others, was most likely born in May or June of this year. This baby and her mother were probably both snuffed-out while standing together.

The MNR has offered several insipid excuses for the Short Hills hunt – population control, deer in over-abundance, and most recently now Lyme disease, but have provided no evidence for any of it. In fact, the MNR’s own empirical data disproves their bogus rhetoric. Even if the deer are at or over their biological carrying capacity, a hunt will temporarily reduce their numbers but will leave more food per deer, causing more twins and triplets to be born next year.

If either the MNR or the hunters think there are too many deer and the deer are going to starve to death, they should stop increasing the number of deer. Hunting is necessary – for hunters – so they can increase the population of deer for subsequent hunts. And it’s obscene that over 100 hunters have entered the park in only two days and that 25% of the deer killed in previous hunts are probably animals that were only born a few months earlier. Maybe the MNR tally of the casualties should have included the babies of those does who were still lactating……

 

 

A Park In Peril – Another Deer Hunt Scheduled for Short Hills

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Hunter snoozes and loses

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau,  with files from the Short Hills Wildlife Alliance

The parks of Canada are available to all Canadians for their benefit, education and enjoyment, and all parks should be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of current and future generations. However, in about two weeks, the Ministry of Natural Resources will once again host the annual fishing derby at Marineland deer hunting at Short Hills Provincial Park, even though hunting is illegal at all other times. On the proposed dates of November 14, 15, 19, 20, 28, and the 29th, the Ministry will allow the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to break virtually all of the rules posted in the park for a ceremonial hunt.

Animal advocates, conservationists, and residents in area the do not believe that hunting is an appropriate activity for a provincial park. Hunting in the park is incompatible with the conservation goals of maintaining species as risk adjacent to areas such as the Golden Horseshoe, which are intensely developed. The Short Hills area contains some of the most extensive natural areas in the Golden Horseshoe, with the highest percentages of forest cover.

The park is part of an environmentally significant area known as the Fonthill Kame Moraine, home to shrubs and herbaceous species not found in other parts of Canada. The largest forest tracts and wetland areas also provide suitable habitat for breeding stock and locally rare birds, reptiles and amphibians. While the deer themselves are not an endangered species, the MNR seems to want the public at large to believe that the relatively small number of animals surveyed in the park are more damaging than climate change and need to be culled on an annual basis. Under the guise of “conservation,” the Ministry has made many unsubstantiated claims that these culls are beneficial to wildlife survival and the environment, which does not explain why there are rules for using the park under regular daily circumstances. According to the MNR themselves, more than 50 of the animals, plants, and lichens found Niagara parks are considered rare and are either threatened endangered. From a conservation biology standpoint, the wildlife in parks are not protected if it is permissible to shoot them.

One of the main objections to the hunt continues to be safety, since past experience has shown that periodically hunters do not adhere to the boundaries established by the MNR, or the Short Hills signboundaries are ambiguous. Prior meetings with the MNR along with Access-To-Information documents have made it abundantly clear that there has never been a signed or agreed-upon safety protocol. The MNR has not even made a quasi-legitimate attempt to limit the number of hunters in the park at any time. These same ATI requests clearly show that hunters breached the buffer zones outside the hunt area and that members of the public were in the park during the hunt.  Despite claims by the MNR that the hunters have never trespassed on private property adjacent to the park, the Ministry have resorted to paying a surveying company more than $3,000 to survey the boundary between private property and the park, another cost to be born by the taxpayers. The most serious accusation of lax security protocols involved unsecured firearms being transported outside of the immediate hunting area; these hunters mingled with hunt observers and crossed the road to their vehicles while their firearms were unencased. Haudenosaunee native Paul Williams, lawyer for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has stated that:

“…the Haudenosaunee law will only allow a hunt if it’s safe,” something he believes is possible using traditional methods. Williams has said that the 1990 Supreme Court decision (The Sparrow Ruling) upheld these rights and hunting can only be limited by a provincial law that is purely aimed at safety. The Supreme Court Decision in R. v. Sparrow was the first Supreme Court of Canada decision which applied s. 35, of the Constitution Act,  which states  that “the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” In the foundational Sparrow ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that First Nations have an Aboriginal right, as defined in the Constitution, to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes and that right takes priority over all others, after conservation and safety. The court also ruled that an aboriginal right is not an absolute right and that governments may encroach upon this if they show a compelling and substantial legislative objective while respecting their fiduciary relationship towards the aboriginal people. The result of this decision is, on the one hand, that the aboriginal peoples have priority when it comes to hunting, fishing, trapping, or gathering for food purposes and on the other hand, that governments can regulate these activities for wildlife conservation or public safety reasons.

Liz White, Director of Animal Alliance of Canada, recently appeared before the Niagara Police Board to address the observations that some hunters carried unencased firearms outside the park in areas within the jurisdiction of the Niagara Regional Police.  Liz formally presented this information with the purpose of having any subsequent violations addressed by the NRP, since public safety is ostensibly the goal of all involved with the hunt. What’s surprising is that both the MNR and the Niagara Regional Police, despite photographing and videotaping all aspects of the protest and the hunters entering and departing the Pelham Rd. entrance of the park, no one seemed to notice this security breach, which is in contravention of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Read Liz White’s letter to Niagara Regional Police Services Board below:

Public interest measures have to take precedence over hunting rights, since the park is not the only location where hunting for aboriginal ceremonial purposes can take place. Already, a substantial number of hectares of public land in Ontario are available for hunting. Numerous other more remote areas, not boundaried by private property, were proposed and are, by most accounts, suitable alternatives to hunting semi-tame deer in a public park located in an ecologically sensitive area. Parks are seen as peaceful getaways to appreciate and value nature – not places for SUVs,  ATVs,  and certainly not unsecured firearms.

 

Call to Action:

Please write to:

Deb Morton, Executive Director

Regional Municipality of Niagara Police Services Board

68 Church Street, St. Catharines, ON L2R 3C6

Office: (905) 688-3911 x5170 / Mobile: 905-329-7814 / Fax: (905) 688-0036

Email: deb.morton@niagarapolice.ca

Aftermath Of The Short Hills Deer Hunt – Optimizing The Use Of FOIA Documentation

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Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

The final Ministry of Labour costs for the six-day 2014 deer hunt by members of the Haudenosaunee Aboriginal Community is $61,959. Of the Ministry costs, $19,286 was for salaries, $32,750 for accommodation and meals and $9,923 in miscellaneous costs.  Not included are the wages for Ontario Provincial Police or Niagara Regional Police, who were present at the hunt every day with a headcount of 6-12 officers at any given time.  When their salaries and overtime are factored in, the cost for the hunt could easily approach $200,000. This still does not include the costs downloaded to the Privacy Commissioner’s Office, which in 2013 sorted through “approximately 2,300 pages of records, including briefing notes, house notes, correspondence, e-mails, plans, handwritten notes and agreements” in order to respond to a Freedom of Information request by the Welland Tribune alone.

John Salo from the Ministry of Natural Resources reported that a total of 67 ministry staff were involved throughout the hunt, with about 45 staff on site daily in November and December.  Salo claimed additional ministry staff were required to ensure public and harvester safety at Short Hills Provincial Park due to an increased number of protesters.”  This last statement is a blatant attempt to blame the cost on conscientious objectors to the hunt, however it was the police and not the MNR who primarily interacted with protesters (unless you count the lurid sexist gestures made by someJody Bersma MNR staff to the female protesters).  The open records request did not reveal a single communication that expressed concern over the number of protesters (and therefore a need to increase staff). It’s bogus because the number of protesters had no bearing on the MNR staff who were responsible for marking trees with hunt and buffer zones, patrolling the park to keep public out and keep the hunters in after they left the hunt boundary and had to be corralled back (5), or the “valet services” provided to hunters when dead deer were shuttled in the park via ATV. Despite having all these people in the park, the Ministry still could not control the number of hunters in Short Hills (although clearly they had no intention of doing so), nor could they help locate a wounded deer which survived a night with an arrow in its stomach.

All these MNR staff members would have been present at the park even if there were no protesters at all.  In any case, it is the protesters who need protection against the MNR, if the incident involving MNR Superintendent Richard Post is any indication.

After an unfathomably long investigation of more than two months by the OPP, Post, who pushed a demonstrator with an MNR vehicle out into the road after a protest in December 2014, has been exonerated. This, despite the fact that the Criminal Code of Canada makes it an offence to drive or operate a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public.

driftwoodThe arms-up, stick-swinging superintendent has a history of causing dissension during the course of his employment  In 2011, he came under scrutiny when a video of him flinging driftwood logs from a teepee-style structure while surrounded by bewildered beach-goers appeared online.  Tensions came to a head in April 2012 when Post was charged with one count of assault after a confrontation with a 73 year old cottager at Rondeau Provincial Park. Those charges were also dismissed in October 2013. Even though more than 320 cottagers petitioned the Ministry of Natural Resources to transfer him, the MNR and Ontario Parks somehow continued to support his methods whilst simultaneously having issues with the stakeholder complaint process.

There was certainly no love lost between Post and the Rondeau Cottagers Association, who wrote in their newsletter after his transfer to Pinery Park that:

“Post’s time here will be remembered by the public for being charged by the OPP with assaulting Garnet Smith two Deer snowyears ago this week, and for demolishing the Big Dock.  Those of us on the RCA Executive view his legacy as the complete loss of a formerly-respectful stakeholder relationship, a shameful breakdown in communication resulting in deepening entrenchment, and ultimately an abject four-year failure of leadership & park management.  When U.S. President Ronald Reagan ran for re-election in 1980, he asked voters if they were better-off now than they were four years ago.  To paraphrase the late President:  “Is Rondeau better-off now than it was four years ago?”  I vote no.”

How Was Short Hills Park chosen for a hunt when other locations appeared to be more suitable?  Open records requests by the Short Hills Alliance did not provide an answer to this question.  In fact, in all the FOIA information presented to the Alliance, Short Hills was not short-listed or even mentioned once as a possibility.  In reviewing the other available options presented to the Haudenosaunee, it becomes apparent that Short Hills was not any more suitable or desirable than practically any other proffered site.  FOIA requests did reveal that the Haudenosaunee requested additional outsourced deer since the number of available deer on the reservation had diminished, leaving them 10-12 deer short each year for Long House Ceremonial functions.  Reading between the lines, the implication here is perhaps that the traditional grounds may have been over hunted.

Deer WinterThe native hunters requested isolated hunting lands that were not currently open to regular hunters, and they were willing to travel anywhere in the watershed.  Clearly there would have been several more suitable options for hunting if areas that were already used for this activity would have been acceptable.  The natives were working on 27 land claims, and said that pre-existing treaties allowed them to hunt in all of South Western Ontario. 

Other areas discussed for hunting included: Wainfleet Bog,  Navy Island,  Dundas Valley, Willoughby Marsh,  Humberstone Marsh,  South Cayuga/Townsend,  (2) Balls Falls, Binbrook,  Canborough,  Chippawa Creek,  E.C. Brown,  Hedley Forest, Jordan Harbour,  Long Beach,  Mud Lake (4) and Port Davidson, Ruigrok Tract,  St. Johns, Stevensville,  Virgil Dams and Reservoirs, and Wainfleet Wetlands (6)

These  sites may have been ruled out for the following reasons (itemized on spreadsheets by MNR staff and obtained by FOIA requests):

Wainfleet Bog – Public hunting was already in the park, there was public opposition for closing area for exclusive hunt, difficulty walking through would make for a difficult hunt, site is home of Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake and other species at risk, Six Nations had already had discussions but did not pursue, there was difficulty in distinguishing between Crown owned and NPCA owned lands, the area was surrounded by private land,  and there was difficulty in ensuring safety due to large area

Navy Island – A Niagara Parks Agreement would have been required, problem with firearms on Parkway, hunting was deemed too difficult, normally a public outcry when hunt takes place, access by boat, tourist area – highly visible

Dundas Valley – No real increased hunting opportunity as Six Nations is already hunting there, public not happy with hunting in the area, highly populated

Willoughby Marsh – Public hunting already allowed, small recreational area, public opposition to closing area for exclusive hunt, difficult to hunt and low deer concentrations

Humberstone Marsh – Public hunting already allowed, proximity to city of Port Colborne, low deer concentrations

South Cayuga/Townsend – Land is leased so landowner permission required

Balls Falls – No hunting season

Binbrook – Hunting from designated blinds only, hunting blind fee applies, already being used by other hunters

Canborough – No hunting season

Chippewa Creek – Hunting restrictions in some blocks

E.C. Brown – No hunting season

Hedley Forest – Conservation Area boundaries

Humberstone Marsh – Conservation Area boundaries

Jordan Harbour – No hunting season

Long Beach – Some area restrictions

Mud Lake – Hunting from designated blinds only

Port Davidson – No hunting season

Ruigrok Tract – Conservation area boundaries

St. Johns – No hunting season

Stevensville – No hunting season

Virgil Dams and Reservoirs – No hunting season

Wainfleet Bog – Designated areas only

Wainfleet Wetlands – Boundary  restrictions, no ATVs allowed in conservation areas

Notice the number of sites that currently allow hunting but have low populations of deer.  This suggests that the areas are being hunted to excess.  Notice also that the Short Hills Alliance is not the only group in opposition to deer hunting in their backyards.

The Short Hills deer hunt demonstrates the importance of open records for government transparency. The park was selected despite the fact that it also featured expanses of private land around the perimeter, there were objections to hunting, it was of small size, and there continue to be low hunting success rates (as evidenced by up to 70 hunters coming into the park per day,  but killing only 21 deer during the entire hunt),  and unclear hunting boundaries. With the available other options,  the MNR and Ontario Parks would have to be wooden-headed in enforcing subsequent hunts in an area where there is such intense opposition from both the public and the Regional Council members.

According to the law of diminishing returns, we can reasonably presume that if hunting by the Haudenosaunee Deer FallConfederacy on the reserve continued at a steady state or increased while the deer population failed to keep pace or declined, it would become too difficult to kill any deer.  This may explain why the native hunters were unable to continue sourcing deer on the reservation. As a result of population decline, hunters would require increased effort/time as the population reached lower and lower numbers, preventing them from achieving high kill rates.  The only reason populations of deer are not exterminated in this scenario is because of the effort relationship on the part of hunters in general – they tend to give up when it gets too hard,  thus allowing the population of deer to eventually rebound.

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, beauty and stability of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it does otherwise. We don’t want to throw any deer under the proverbial bus, but after two hunts outside the reservation, the deer population may rebound and both the MNR and native hunters will reconsider the convenience of hunting in a multi-use park that is the subject of heavy protesting and at a potential cost of up to $200,000 to the taxpayers each hunting season.

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is the one that comes with a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Dead Wrong – The Deer “Harvest” In Short Hills Provincial Park

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The doe has been shot and is now being removed by MNR staff.

This doe had to be euthanized by MNR staff after she was found wounded on private property

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Photos: Short Hills Wildlife Alliance and Heather Clemenceau

In 2014, concerned citizens in the Niagara Region once again called for for an end to deer hunts in the 1,700 acre Short Hills Provincial Park. Citing concerns for public safety including hunters trespassing on private property,  Regional Councillors sent letters to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) requesting that it not allow future hunts. Through a long-standing but questionable treaty agreement, Haudenosaunee aboriginal hunters have been allowed into the closed park to kill deer with bows and arrows. A first hunt in the park took place over four days in January 2013 and a second was held for eight days in November 2013, finishing out 2014 with a hunt in November/December. In order to depict the disregard with which the deer have been killed and left in various stages of dismemberment in the park, please be aware that this blog post does include some graphic or disturbing images.

The reasons for opposing the hunt are as varied as the demonstrators, many of whom have stood vigilant at the entrance to the park before dawn and after sunset in a cold so numbing that it was physically painful. The protesters consist of those opposed to hunting in a park that is traditionally used for walking, cycling, hiking, birdwatching and horseback riding, those who question the treaty rights, and others who are simply opposed to hunting the semi-tame deer (akin to hunting at Marineland) or have questioned the MNR’s ability to determine whether the park is suffering from deer overpopulation issues as is claimed. Although I’m personally opposed to sport hunting, and bow hunting in particular, I can’t really object to First Nations hunting, fishing, or gathering rights that take place on lands that are not adjacent to homes or schools, or Crown lands that are

Regional Counil Member Andy Petrowski

Regional Council Member Andy Petrowski

generally not used by non-hunters. That description doesn’t characterize Short Hills Park.

Unlike so many animal welfare or animal rights issues, there is widespread political support to ending the hunt. Jim Bradley (MPP St. Catharines), Kim Craitor (MPP Niagara Falls – now retired) and Tim Hudak (MPP Niagara West) and all Town Councils of Pelham, Thorold, St. Catharines and Reg. Council of Niagara are in opposition. The issue is still considered largely untouchable by many politicians, including the Ontario Premier, because it’s also an issue of Native rights. Regional Council, which last fall demanded the province put a stop to the eight days of native deer hunting in the Park, agreed to ask the Ministry of Natural Resources to look into alleged safety violations during that hunt and to take steps to ensure public safety. I’m not into disputing the contents of the treaty,” said St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley. “I simply feel this particular park is not the appropriate place for a deer hunt of this kind.”

I don’t live near Short Hills, but there are many similarities between it and the large forest near my home – one that I’ve ridden horses in for more than a decade. By contrast, hunting is not permitted in the majority of the 2,300 hectare York Regional Forest. The groomed and manicured trails are not open to hunters or members of the public on a snowmobile or ATV – the small tracts that are used for hunting are raw forest, not typically close to homes. The forest is used year-round for the following activities, which can be enjoyed by anyone:

  • Walking/hiking
  • Dog walking
  • Bird watching
  • Horseback riding
  • Cycling
  • Snowshoeing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Mountain biking
  • Geocaching and snowshoe strolls
  • Walks with naturalists to identify the local plants and animals
  • Holiday themed events for families
Large protest sign at the entrance to Shorthills

Let’s keep hunting out of multi-use parks that are enjoyed by everyone.

When trails are used for these activities, they should not simultaneously be used for hunting – the hunters need to stay in the designated areas. Since only a small percentage of the Ontario population hunts, why should non-hunters be forced to share the park with people who want to kill animals?  If any of these tracts of the York Regional Forest were suddenly opened up to hunting,  I would be there everyday in protest as well.  There are more than enough of these designated, less populous areas without encroaching onto trails designated for use by everyone.

Contentiousness is not new to deer hunting. Any deer herd is the result of a complex  interaction between food supply, population size, reproduction, mortality factors, exposure to prey animals, movements, weather, and past history. We are continually buffeted with reports that there are too many deer on Crown lands. Whenever the MNR tells us that hunts are needed to “control the population” we know they are only kidding themselves. The fact that the MNR claims there needs to be a hunt twice a year in Short Hills two years in a row shows that killing animals is not an effective way to manage populations, because animal populations tend to rebound after hunting due to the compensatory rebound effect and other factors. And if the deer do actually run out of food in the park they will simply walk away and forage elsewhere. There are no fences around the park to stop them. The fact that they love to eat the grapes from the nearby winery is a testament to the fact that they ignore boundaries entirely.

Regardless of motivation, I think it’s safe to assume that the demonstrators all feel that this cull is a deadly farce perpetrated by those with no

The Walk of Shame past the hunt demonstrators

The Walk of Shame past the hunt demonstrators

knowledge of population dynamics of wildlife. Those of us who object to killing deer for no good reason have raised the difficult question about the ethical justification of the hunt.

Bow hunting is, next to trapping, the least humane way of killing animals. An invention of the Stone Age, still alive in the 21st century, it is clearly a very cruel way to torture and kill animals without regard for their pain and suffering. Unlike bullets, arrows loop while in transit. Whereas a gun hunter takes dead aim at an animal, an archer must estimate the distance from the target and adjust the shot to compensate for the trajectory of the arrow. Animals commonly jump on hearing the release of the arrow—they reflexively move some distance before the arrow reaches them from wherever they were at the time of the shot. According to experts, animals can completely evade an arrow at a distance of 15 to less than 20 yards, which means they can also partially evade the arrow and become wounded.

The inaccuracy inherent in bow hunting is demonstrated by professional archers. Olympic class-archers hit the “bulls eye,” – the centre of the target – even under ideal conditions when the target is not moving and unobstructed – only part of the time.  Therefore, I maintain that bow hunters are quite aware that their hunting will virtually always cause slow death as they wait the recommended time – up to 12 hours, for the animal to die.  Blood trails on the site provide definitive proof that bow hunted animals do not drop where they stand.  Precisely because the target is moving and because of the numerous variables contributing to the pattern of the moving arrow, wounding is inevitable.

Dozens of scientific studies show that bow hunting yields more than a 50 percent wounding rate. Therefore, if only 21 deer were killed (recovered) in the 2014 hunt as the MNR has stated, we can perhaps conclude that as many as two dozen additional deer were injured and unrecovered, to die later somewhere on the grounds, perhaps after attracting coyotes.  On the last day of the hunt on 2013, there were gunshots heard in the park which was suspected to be MNR cleaning up the wounded.

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Interestingly, the Haudenosaunee claim to have a 90-95% accuracy rate, which seems implausible to me. The spokesperson for the hunters – Paul Williams, claims that they have a 5-10% error rate. Williams also adds that the average recreational bow hunt where the deer are wounded and not taken as kills by the hunter are about 30-40%, which is still not consistent with scientific studies. However, if indeed the hunters have a error rate of 10% or less, I would suggest that they get on an Olympic team, where they would do well pitted against some of the most highly skilled archers in the world, who claim to have an accuracy rating of about 90% (with a non-reactive target).

MNR Ministry of No Responsibility

MNR – The Ministry of No Responsibility

The single most farcical element in the Short Hills hunt is surely provided by the presence of the Ministry of Natural Resources. Think “Waterloo” and immediately the phrase, “catastrophic failure” comes to mind. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is supposed to act as the steward of Ontario’s provincial parks, forests, fisheries, wildlife, mineral aggregates, and the crown lands and waters that make up close to 90% of our province. However, it’s been quite some time if at all since the MNR was truly interested in protecting wildlife beyond making sure there are sufficient numbers to exploit through the sale of hunting licenses. It seems obvious that even in winter the habitat can obviously sustain the numbers, since thus far no one has presented any imagery of sick or emaciated deer. In fact, pictures taken by homeowners backing onto the park and visitors show that the deer are healthy and in good flesh. By contrast, the Ministry expects everyone to believe that after 3 hunts, poaching, year-round hunting on adjacent private property and a terrible winter, the deer population persistently exceeds its carrying capacity by several hundred animals.

The hunt has devastated the budget for the Short Hills – the MNR spent $84,000 to organize a total of 12 days of hunting (not including the cost for 2014) – almost 4 times the annual budget of the entire park at just under $25,000.  Not included in this cost are the salaries of 6-12 Niagara Regional and OPP officers at the park each and every day of the hunt, along with other branches of government such as legal, historical, and aboriginal affairs, provided courtesy of the taxpayer.

The hunt also permits activities that are not allowed by visitors to the park at any other time. This includes the use of trucks by the hunters and ATVs used by the MNR/Ontario Parks staff. The vehicles leave deep ruts in a property where walkers are reminded by signage not to walk on the trails when they are muddy, to avoid damage. Damage to the park from the last hunt was left all year long as a mess and only repaired not for the regular patrons of Short Hills, but for the hunters. Now it’s ruined yet again and will no doubt be left for another year now that the budget has been exhausted.

Message posted on pro-hunt Facebook page.

Message posted on pro-hunt Facebook page.

The 1,700-acre forest is surrounded by private property and about 100 homes, and although the MNR has created a no-hunt buffer zone between the park and private property lines, the buffer zone – 150 metres from the edge of the park, has been breached by hunters in the past.  “…Even if you put up a note [sic] trespassing sign I’m not going to stay off your damn property,” writes Bruin Pol on a Facebook page supporting the Short Hills deer hunt.

The MNR also marked some trees with a confusing array of colours signifying that the hunt boundary (marked with blue paint) and buffer zone (marked with red paint) were one and the same

Confusing MNR signage - Hunt Zone and Buffer Zone are the same?

Confusing MNR signage – Hunt Zone and Buffer Zone are the same?

when the latter should logically be 150 metres from the hunt zone.

The Ministry also set a limit of 30 native hunters (which they refer to as a protocol). However, we know that this is a totally non-binding limit since the hunters chose to ignore it without consequence. Each day, protesters observed up to 70 hunters entering the property despite the presence of this “limit.” With 30 – 70 hunters present on each day and only 21 deer killed in total as of this last hunt in 2014, we must of course question the MNR’s statements about deer overpopulation in the park, along with any claims of the effectiveness or accuracy of the hunters. When deer were observed in truck beds leaving Short HIlls, it was also noted that they were in good apparent health and not emaciated, once again, disproving claims of overpopulation. If the deer population is too large and the park ecosystem can’t sustain the deer,  in winter of all seasons, why are the deer of healthy weight and suitable to hunt? Wouldn’t the majority of them be underweight? It is a fact that a government biologist confirmed on the last day of hunt that all the deer were healthy.

We can mock the MNR for their unsubstantiated statements about the hunt, but at the close of the December hunt, their frustration with the demonstrators escalated and became downright dangerous. Protesters complained of lewd gestures by one MNR employee along with the childish theft of a protest sign by another. This petty theft meant that the police had to retrieve the sign from the individual and return it personally to the protester, at additional cost. The most outrageous offense by an MNR employee occurred when he aggressively pushed a protester several feet out into the road with a truck – a vehicular assault that is still being investigated by the police.

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Criticism of the hunt and bow hunting specifically has led to some unjustified cries of favouritism or racism by the demonstrators.  The accusation of favouritism has been made because only natives were invited to participate in a hunt that some felt should have been open to others, and racism because hunting critics have inevitably drawn in Six Nations people as part of the criticism of the hunt. Prolonging of the public dispute has been largely fueled by the Social Justice Research Institute of nearby Brock University, representing the head-desk, side-eye, face-palm state of academic publishing, via a blog post that derisively referred to protesters as “settler or colonial racists,” as if none of the Brock students or faculty are “settlers” or “colonists” either. I would agree that it would be racist to suggest that natives should have no treaty rights at all, but it’s no more racist to protest this hunt than it is wrong to critique consumption of bear paw or shark fin soup, or the use of elephant tusk or rhino horn (albeit these are endangered animals). All ideas and traditions must be open to criticism regardless of origin and without charges of racism in order that we not shield intrinsically harmful ideas from criticism. And, unlike a person’s racial or cultural characteristics or gender, beliefs can be argued for, tested, criticized, and changed.

In their now infamous blog post accusing the protesters of racism, colonialism, and sexism, the SJRI never once addresses the interdisciplinary scholarly field of critical animal studies, which is

Jodlyn Harrison's inflammatory blog post, filled with false and exaggerated claims about the protesters.

Jodie Lynn Harrison’s inflammatory blog post, filled with false and exaggerated claims about the protesters. Click to embiggen or visit SJRI’s original blog post here

also taught at Brock University. Rooted in animal liberation, CAS is dedicated to establishing total liberation for humans, nonhuman animals, and the earth. Animal rights and animal welfare are the next big hurdles for humans to cross, so it’s rather shocking that the SJRI chose not to incorporate these issues into their blog post on the hunting demonstration. The blog author and initiator of the counter-protest, Jodie Lynn Harrison, ignores the fact that relations between humans and non-human animals are now at a point of crisis. Strangely, Ms. Harrison also made claims of sexual harassment (whether against the Brock students or the Haudenosaunee is unknown).

Nor can Ms. Harrison’s behaviour escape criticism, since she introduced herself to some demonstrators and police as a “Professor from Brock University,” who enabled some of the hunters to bypass the official entry point to the park (and the protesters) by trespassing on the adjacent Boy Scouts property in a vehicle owned by the hunters while the camp was attended by children. By most accounts, Ms. Harrison was rarely on-site at the park and yet has conducted her own personal smear campaign by making exaggerated or outright false claims about the protesters in an attempt to create support for treaty rights.  Ms. Harrison did no apparent review of the history of the hunt, had no participation in last 2 hunts, no attendance at Regional Council, no FOI of safety protocol and yet she proclaimed the hunt to be “safe.”

Protesting against hunting is not,  in my opinion, an example of contemporary settler colonialism and certainly not sexism or racism, as claimed by the SJRI. I also think it’s logically fallacious to assume that anyone who questions the 1701 Nanfan Treaty is automatically a racist, nor does it mean that one does not believe in treaty rights. Six Nations people have used the 1701 Nanfan Treaty in their defense to win court cases about hunting outside of reserves but the validity of the treaty itself has not been challenged in court. Many historians claim that the application of the Treaty in what is now southwestern Ontario is questionable since the Five (later Six) Nations Iroquois had already surrendered that land to the Mississauga and other Ojibwa Indians a year earlier in June 1700.

I don’t believe there is anyone alive who can atone for the intentional acts of destruction and violence against aboriginal peoples. Settler colonialism in Canada spanned several hundred years and included mass killings and other depopulations, extreme negligence in the form of unchecked and facilitated spread of disease, along with large scale expropriation of lands and forced assimilation. Protesters against the hunt are actually agnostic with regard to the ideasubjects of the demonstration – it makes no difference who the hunters are. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is entrenched in Canada’s constitution, guarantees us the freedom of peaceful assembly in section 2(c). I suggest that the SJRI and Ms. Harrison reflect on the accusations they have made and take to heart and mind the words of Peter Marler, a pioneer in the field of animal communication.  He once gave invaluable professional counsel to one of his colleagues- “Slow down, reflect more, and publish less.

Short Hills is Ontario’s smallest provincial park. It hasn’t seen hunting in 50 years. It has long been regarded as a park where both flora and fauna are to be conserved under the laws of the Ontario government – Not “conserved” for the use of hunters who may rip through the property in vehicles that are not a permissible at any other time in the forest. If it is acceptable for people to hunt every year in Short Hills, why doesn’t the Ontario government consistently allow hunting in any other park or conservation land? We’ve also seen from the MNR expenditures that hunting is not a “sport” that is economically viable, at least not without significant handouts.

Warning StickerWhen humans interfere with nature the results are rarely good and such is the case with culling populations. According to a recent study, more livestock are killed after wolves are culled than when populations are left alone. Treehugger reports that Washington State University researchers combed through 25 years worth of data and uncovered that for each wolf killed, the odds of a sheep dying goes up by 4% and the likelihood of cattle getting killed by wolves jumps by 5-6%. So what could possibly be the explanation for these unintended consequences? According to the research, wolf pack stability is paramount when it comes to controlling the impact of wolves on livestock and culling them disrupts the social order of the packs, leading to more breeding. And more breeding is the end result of the instability created by deer hunts, especially when food is in plentiful supply.

For most people, the decision to protest is not an objection to treaty rights or an act of discrimination against the Haudenosaunee. The Six Nations people are used by the MNR to get a temporary herd thin and they avoid the political fallout. But the deer do not care about the culture, religion, sex, interests, politics, or skin colour of the people who kill them. There are many conscientious objectors to deer hunting who are in lockstep with other single-issue campaigns by Natives, such as tree-cutting in aboriginal forests and fracking. We fight against the deer hunt because it is a cruel, needless killing spree where quick kills are the exception.

The “Deer” Departed Herd Of the Royal Botanical Gardens

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deer with tree antlersArtwork and Writing by:  Heather Clemenceau

Culling wildlife has a bad name right now.  The unpopular British badger cull, taking place over six weeks and targeted to kill 70% of badgers, divided Britain. While the culling of badgers,  done to try to prevent the spread of tuberculosis to cattle,  was condemned by conservationists, the Board of Directors at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington Ontario made a unanimous decision to dispatch a number of native white tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in December 2013. While some groups are cheering this cull of deer populations on the RBG grounds, to philosophers of animal rights, the culling is an Orwellian atrocity – “speciesism” in action.  And this is conservation in favour of – lilacs.  The deer are eating some of the prized lilac collections on the sprawling, 2,700-acre RBG, which draws about 200,000 paid admissions a year. Its yearly revenue is just under $12 million.

The decision to kill the deer was made unanimously by the board of directors, without apparent consideration given to humane means to deter deer from the plants.  Ironically, their Facebook photo album hosts several pictures of deer and fawns on the RBG property.  Even more ironically, the RBG acquired some reindeer to give the appearance of Santa’s reindeer for their “Breakfast with Santa” event during December’s “Winterfest,” while across the way and out of site they were having deer shot with crossbows. Ample photographic evidence also exists to show that signage posted on the property prohibits hunting – or “harvest,” a euphemism that predominates in all their communications.  All this adds up to some pretty dodgy ethical dilemmas for the RBG.

People living adjacent to the property can walk out their front door and see a good size deer grazing on the front lawn or moving across the driveway.  Welcomed and enjoyed by many in the community, the deer are now widely perceived as threatening and unwelcome. Their behaviour is foreign, their ways uncivilized. They eat too many of the wrong plants.  The Walt Disney frame has faded and given way to favouritism of decorative plants over living animals.   As they became more comfortable grazing on the delectable herbaceous flowering plants at the RBG, the RBG became a lot less comfortable with them. It’s no wonder that gardeners in charge don’t know what to do. They seem to think that killing deer is the same thing as weeding a garden.

In a press release earlier this week the RBG stated that it is “one of Canada’s most important botanical gardens, distinguished by a first class horticultural collection.” This distinction has become threatened by what the RBG says is an out of balance population of deer in the park.

RBG Letter copy

That being said, this cull is a deadly farce decided by people with no knowledge of deer or wildlife and no interest in such. There is some fencing protecting the lilacs but it appears that they also do not want to spend money to expand and properly maintain a fence and so think arbitrarily killing local deer will solve the problem.

The deer population in the area IS thriving, as the “natural” mechanisms of population control in predator-prey relationships are admittedly not available in this area. The reintroduction of large predators, such as wolves or mountain lions, is not a viable option here, for reasons having to do with the human population  nearby. Coyotes exist, but while they are adept at picking off small pet dogs and cats, they are useless when it comes to deer.

But deer population management by human intervention is precisely what puts the us on the ethical hook. Some people oppose the deer hunt on Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) land near Hamilton Ontario because they herne and deer scenedon’t like hunting period. Some people oppose the deer hunt on RBG land because they think it is dangerous to hunt so close to a populated area. Others don’t mind the deer hunt to cull deer but think the hunt should be open to non-natives and not just the Haudenosaunee.  It seems possible that other non-native hunters will soon express an interest in hunting on RBG lands.

Those of us who focus on the individual life and interests of deer, and who have objections to killing them for frivolous reasons, now come to the fore and raise genuinely difficult questions about the ethical justification of the hunt. There is, or ought to be, an ethical prohibition against causing undue pain and suffering for any animal without sufficiently strong reasons to do so. There are humane and non-lethal methods of deer population control; those should surely be attempted. Despite what the RBG believes about an overpopulation of deer, the photos in this blog show that the deer are in good condition and are not starving, which would be definitive proof of overpopulation.  It is alleged that there are 260-300 deer within 800 hectares or 3 deer per hectare.

Some of us question the moral right of human beings to decide what other species are permitted to inhabit a given area. First deer, then what is the next animal to be targeted –   groundhogs, gophers, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, or rabbits? Rabbits also eat flowers and plants that we value, such as pansies, petunias, day lilies and……lilacs.

The RBG people believe that they can “alter the behaviour” of the deer that remain so that they return to natural foods and leave collections material alone.”  To the deer,  lilacs ARE natural food! They cannot associate the hunting of their members with eating lilacs or ‘tresspassing” on 2,700 acres of RBG property. They can’t distinguish between “safe” and “unsafe” plants, and they typically do not migrate from one area to another.   In fact, many of the deer were known to residents and considered semi-tame.

Fawns in Meadow2Animals such as deer can only rely on mechanisms developed over time through evolution, which assists prey animals in their constant struggle against predators. As a result of the improved vigilance effect, prey animals are able to detect predators over time via evolution of morphological strategies, but they cannot spontaneously “learn” to stay away from the RBG plants. Unless you eradicate every living thing from a wide area when you disturb it, species will colonize that disturbed area as fast as possible. They will take advantage of opportunities the other colonizing species provide in relationships parasitic and commensal  and endosymbiotic, fill every emerging niche in the developing biotic landscape of the disturbed area.  All complex systems – an ecosystem is a complex system – have a tendency to seek stable states. What is a “stable state?” It’s a set of conditions that lasts for a relatively long time – it is a population that is not in a state of disequillibrium such as that caused by hunting.

Six Nations Complexities

The cull really had nothing to do with a traditional hunt by the Haudenosaunee. It was not initiated by the Haudenosaunee but by the RBG, and only out of concern for lilacs, not for providing sustenance to others.  However, criticism of the hunt and bow hunting specifically has led to some cries of racism and even favouritism.  Favouritism because only natives were invited to participate in a hunt that some felt should have been open to others, and racism because hunting critics have inevitably drawn in Six Nations people as part of the criticism of the hunt.

I have to admit, one of my first thoughts was that the RBG asked the Haudenosaunee  to hunt exclusively, not only because of treaty issues,  but because it would make the board of directors “bullet proof” to criticism. In fact, all ideas and traditions must be open to criticism regardless of origin and without charges of racism in order that we not shield intrinsically harmful ideas from criticism. Just as it is not wrong to criticique Chinese consumption of elephant tusk or rhino horn (albeit these are endangered animals), neither should criticism of the eating of bear paw or shark fin soup subject us to cries of “racism.”  It is not wrong to criticize hunting by any person or group.  And, unlike a person’s racial or cultural characteristics or gender, beliefs can be argued for, tested, criticized, and changed.

For me, the issue is not whether the Haudenosaunee hunters say the 1701 Albany (Nanfan) Treaty gives them the right to hunt on that land forever.  In 1701, 20 chiefs from the Five (later Six) Nations Haudenosaunee wildenlanderConfederacy surrendered their beaver hunting grounds, including land in what is now the U.S.A. and land in what is now southwestern Ontario (including RBG land), to the British Crown.  Many of the back and forth arguments about the hunt have degenerated into discussion of whether the Treaty is even valid.  Some Six Nations people have even said that the Six Nations Haudenosaunee never surrendered land in southern Ontario.  Such a defense is rather irrelevant when it comes down to excusing cruel practices to animals – and bow hunting is cruel. On rare occasions, the claim of the right to bow hunt has come across, to me, as a sort of ethnic narcissism – whereby some individuals in the discussion appear to hold the opinion that they possess exclusive identities that are superior to other cultures and should therefore be immune to criticism.

Indigenous right or not, no one will succeed in convincing me that bow hunting done to protect lilacs is an appropriate expression of values. I don’t believe that any hunters have come forth and shown definitively that their survival depended on this hunt, which of course was designed (badly) to defend a flowering plant.

Bow Hunting – Next to Trapping,  the Most Inhumane Way to Kill a Wild Animal

An invention of the Stone Age, still alive in the 21st century, bow hunting is clearly a very cruel way to torture and kill animals without regard for their pain and suffering. Bow hunting is, next to trapping, the least humane way of killing animals. Before you support a “wildlife” or “conservation” group, ask about its position on bow hunting. Most conservation organizations endorse hunting at some level, or at least do not oppose it.

I’m no fan of hunting, although I can sometimes accept arguments in favour of it if it truly is for subsistence purposes and if it is accurate – preferably accomplished by a marksman with a gun.  But there is really no sure way to kill an animal instantly with a bow. Unlike bullets, arrows loop while in transit. Whereas a gun hunter takes dead aim at an animal, an archer must estimate the distance from the target and adjust the shot to compensate for the trajectory of the arrow. Animals commonly jump on hearing the release of the arrow—they reflexively move some distance before the arrow reaches them from wherever they were at the time of the shot. According to experts, animals can completely evade an arrow at a distance of 15 to less than 20 yards, which means they can also partially evade the arrow and become wounded.

fawn centaur2The inaccuracy inherent in bow hunting is demonstrated by professional archers. Olympic class-archers hit the “bulls eye,” – the centre of the target – even under ideal conditions when the target is not moving and unobstructed – only part of the time.  Therefore, I maintain that bow hunters are quite aware that their hunting will virtually always cause slow death as they wait the recommended time – up to 12 hours, for the animal to die.  Blood trails on the site provide definitive proof that bow hunted animals do not drop where they stand.  Deliberately causing pain and suffering to innocent animals is incomprehensible, yet, bow hunters frequently find enjoyment in these cruel acts. I reject the “culture” argument put forth repeatedly during conversations about the hunt.

A report summarizing 24 studies of bow hunting demonstrated that there is little chance that deer die instantly when struck, but more typically bow hunters have an average 54% wounding and crippling rate. For every deer killed and dragged out of the woods, another one is wounded and runs off only to die hours, days or even weeks later, all the while in pain, defenseless against further attacks by natural predators.  Therefore, if only 7 deer were killed (recovered) as the RBG has stated, we can perhaps conclude that as many as half dozen additional deer were injured and unrecovered, to die later somewhere on the grounds, perhaps now attracting coyotes.  I do hope that the people living in the Short Hills community near the RBG are keeping their cats and dogs indoors during a period of increased scavenging…….

A 1988 report to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks indicated that of 2,370 bow hunters who shot an elk with an arrow, only 49% actually retrieved the animals hit –1,161 elk, whose last hours or days of their lives were probably spent in agony before succumbing to a painful and prolonged death, likely from peritonitis or infection within a week or two later.

Another population study found that of 22 deer shot by archers (using traditional archery only – no cross bows) 11 were recovered by the hunters, resulting in a 50% wounding rate (deer shot but not recovered)

The rule of thumb for bow hunters has long been that we should wait 30 to 45 minutes on heart and lung hits, an hour or more on a suspected liver hit, eight to 12 hours on paunch hits, and that we should follow up immediately on hindquarter and other muscle hits, “to keep the wound open and bleeding. ”  ~ Glenn Helgeland – Fins and Feathers Winter 1987

There is clearly some psychological disconnect in those who display so much aggression and violence against animals, and who feel the need to kill innocent and defenseless animals (and very inaccurately I might add) – over an issue with lilacs of all things.

Population Dynamics of Deer (or why hunting won’t accomplish the desired outcome)

The board of directors at the Royal Botanical Gardens claim that the deer population in that area is too high and that is why they are eating the lilacs. People who run Short Hills Provincial Park have said that the deer dryad and fawnpopulation was in the range of 300 deer but should be in the range of about 50.  According to whom?  The deer that have been photographed appear very healthy and seem to be flourishing.  Overpopulation is a biological implausibility, since too many deer will lead to starvation and population die off.  I don’t believe anyone from the RBG or any other group has provided any sort of photographic evidence to counter the photographs of  healthy deer that the protesters have provided.

Basic biology dictates that animal populations do not just grow exponentially out of control. Population ecology and Darwinian theory tell us that animals will always produce more offspring than will naturally survive.  Surplus offspring are produced due to limiting factors such as the availability of food and space will impact survivability as will the existence of disease and predators. Exponential growth of a wildlife population is virtually impossible because an unlimited supply of food and the complete absence of biological enemies occurs very rarely in nature.  Once a herd has reached its “carrying capacity,” there may be some animals that cannot be sustained, and the result is zero population growth.

Deer, like many animals, have the ability to adjust their reproductive activities to be in harmony with their environment. The compensatory rebound effect is the principle result of culls that don’t work and never will.  For this reason, hunts are a great tool for the bow hunters because they ensure that, in subsequent years, there will be even more deer to hunt.  The result is rather like the hydra effect, which sometimes occurs when cutting off the head of a mythological creature or banning an internet troll – dozens more heads, trolls and sockpuppets subsequently appear.

The increased likelihood of multiple births after a hunt has also been confirmed, partially because hunting simply decreases the competition for food among the animals that survive a hunt. A study conducted by the Department of Wildlife and Range Sciences, School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida sampled deer from five separate sites: three hunted and two non-hunted. The study found that the incidence of twins being born to a pregnant doe was higher on hunted land than on non-hunted land. The study found “[m]ean number of fetuses per pregnant doe was greater on hunted…than on nonhunted sites…Incidence of twinning was 38% on hunted sites and 14% on nonhunted sites. No twinning was observed among pregnant fawns or yearlings from non-hunted areas, whereas…18% of the pregnant yearlings and…33% of the pregnant fawns from hunted areas carried twins.” (“Reproductive Dynamics Among Disjunct White-tailed Deer Herds in Florida” Journal of Wildlife Management (1985)).All of this helps explain why, even after decades of hunting, deer numbers usually remain flat or actually increase.  Deer are highly prolific, and when their numbers are reduced after hunts, the remaining female deer will often have given birth to multiple fawns who will now have higher survival rates and earlier onset of sexual maturity. The end result is a quick “bounce-back” in numbers.  The well-fed doe may also reproduce at a younger age (and thus produce more fawns during her lifetime), and the incidence of birthing twins or triplets increases. And so the lilacs will not be saved and the blackened image of the RBG and its inhumane bow hunt will continue.

Deer islandsBut as hunters continue to reduce populations, making more food and cover available to the surviving animals, nature cannot run its course and the potential for overpopulation arises. In a recent study, “Harvesting Can Increase Severity of Wildlife Disease Epidemics”, the authors use mathematical population modeling to show that hunting causes increases not only in disease prevalence but also in total host population size due in part to increased birth rates. They conclude that “...the demographic plasticity of [certain] animal populations confers them with a remarkable capacity to recover from control, and such a response to culling can actually increase the supply of susceptibles to …disease.” (Marc Choisy and Pejman Rohani, Institute of Ecology, and Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Disease, University of Georgia, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society, (2006)).

The reproductive benefits to white-tailed deer of greater nutrition have been well documented. In an early study, half the yearlings (young deer) studied were deprived of an adequate food supply while the other half was well fed. The poorly fed yearlings did not breed at all undoubtedly, because inadequate nutrition prevented their sexual maturity.  However all the well fed yearlings bred. The study found that the well fed yearlings were “over 2.5 times as productive as poorly fed yearlings.” In addition, the 25 prime-age, well fed does studied produced 45 fawns while the 22 prime-age under fed does, produced only 30 fawns making the well fed does about 32% more productive than the under nourished ones. (“Reproductive Patterns of White-tailed Deer Related to Nutritional Plane” by Louis Verme, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Journal of Wildlife Management (1969)).

The abstract for another study which is focused on crop pests but is also applicable to deer begins “There are potentially many situations in which creatures will be subject to infrequent but regular culling. In terms of controlling crop pests, some farmers may only be able to afford to apply pesticides occasionally. Alternatively, pesticides may be applied only occasionally to limit their unwelcome side effects, which include pesticide resistance, chemical poisoning of agricultural workers, and environmental degradation. In terms of conservation, some species (such as the red deer in the UK) may be culled occasionally to maintain balances within their ecosystem. However, in this paper we discover, as the culmination of an exploration of adult-stage culling of a creature with juvenile and adult life stages, that, in certain circumstances, regular but infrequent culling will, perversely, increase the average population of the creature.”  Note that as with the inevitabe population decrease, the downside (and there always is one) in this study was increased pesticide resistance and the unintended consequences of chemical poisoning for workers.

Deer have significant impacts on woody and herbaceous plants. So,  the mere existence of a garden setting is irresistible to them,  and regardless of the number of deer present,  they will always be attracted to areas where buck eye viewherbaceous plants are in abundance.  Even if most of the population of deer were killed, the remaining deer will still be attracted to the same plants due to their preferential browsing habits, so the logic of the RBG again fails.

Now that we can see that hunts cannot work because they allow for the same and greater numbers of deer in the subsequent year, what will? Unfortunately for the RBG, all the humane methods of controlling deer are either costly or labour intensive or both.  The key to successfully living with wildlife is for the RBG and residents to understand that deer are here to stay. Once they overcome their initial resistance and take steps to protect valued plants, as they started to do in the past, “deer-proofing” will quickly become a normal part of life in deer country.  I live on the edge of an arboretum that supports a large number of rabbits. I’ve found rabbit nests in my backyard as well.  You’d suspect with an arboretum, the rabbits would stay there because there are so many food choices and the absence of people.  But again, with preferential browsing habits, the rabbits have an acquired taste for buds on ornamental shrubbery in the development where I live.  To that end I have installed a sprinkler with an attached motion sensor.  The downside (and there always is one) is that occasionally a neighbour walking a dog late at night gets a startling spritz of water. But perhaps unlike the RBG Board of Directors, the neighbour has learned from the somewhat negative experience and has modified his behaviour………

The Humane Society receives calls from people all around the US who are outraged by the prospect of deer kills in their communities. They suggest that communities should first do objective public surveys to define and assess the nature, scope, and location of the particular deer problem so solutions can be tailored to particular sites. Then a community should develop a comprehensive plan using applicable non-lethal methods, along with setting up a robust data collection and evaluation system to monitor if deer damage mitigation strategies are achieving set goals, and adapt the programs accordingly.

Serene Morning at Hikone CastleThe non-profit population management group White Buffalo have launched surgical sterilization programs in several US towns.   The project examines the effectiveness of humanely reducing the herds by sterilization. The process begins with shooting does with tranquilizer darts, which are equipped with a tracking device so the deer can be found after they are shot. Tranq’ed deer are then then taken to the city’s police headquarters, where a surgical table is set up and the ovaries removed in a procedure that takes less than 15 minutes. In two weeks, a team captured and sterilized 137 does, out of a total population of about 230 in just 1.84 square miles. This year, they found only 12 unsterilized does, Meanwhile, about 15 deer have died — from natural causes, car accidents or wandering into a hunting area — without being replaced. Within a few years there will be about 50% fewer deer without any hunting involved.

Animal activist and conservationist Anthony Marr offers a solution of his own, “the quantitative buck/doe separator.” The idea is simply that if the bucks and does cannot physically get together, they cannot mate. The objective is to control how many does in the local population that will not be impregnated. Once this number has been determined – by a biologist – the device would be constructed to actualize this number. The buck/doe separator is simple but requires fencing as a prerequisite. It is nothing but a small piece of land ideally half-woods/half-pasture contained by deer-fencing punctuated by baited inward one-way gates. These gates should be wide enough for a doe to go through, but not a buck with wide antlers. Thus, only females can enter and their number can be monitored. Once the desired number is reached, the one-way gates would be locked. The bucks would go looking for accessible does somewhere else. Plus, the does in the enclosure need not stay there forever; only during the rutting season.

There are also repellent sprays on the market for existing plants the deer might be nibbling on. Repellents work by reducing the attractiveness and palatability of treated plants to a level lower than that for other available Little Pond copyforage. Of course the downside is that they must be frequently applied, especially after rainfall.  This is unlikely to be a viable option that can be used on 2,700 acres, although it would be a definite possibility for hobby gardeners and homeowners.

I do wonder exactly how many other gardens the RBG contacted before arriving at the conclusion that lethal means were to be used as a “last resort.”  The Butchart Gardens store in Victoria, BC, offers a book on “Deer Proofing Gardens.”  The Wildlife Education Coalition, which works to resolve human-deer conflicts, also offers several solutions to deer-resistant gardens, including a list of deer resistant plants evaluated by Rutgers University.  I realize that a large commercial garden such as the RBG is not going to redesign itself to feature only deer-proof plants, but since they are looking to spend $20 million on a new rock garden, but why would they not consider many of the plants found to be deer-resistant?

Call to Action

The protest against the Royal Botanical Gardens is ongoing.  We need a concerted effort to document and give RBG photographs and the numerous alternatives to killing deer. The province and federal governments have already committed to $14 million in funding for their new rock garden, so a continually strong presence is required to discourage subsequent hunts. And if you think this is a lot of money for a rock garden, don’t vote for politicians who spend taxpayer money in this fashion.  Tell them why you won’t vote for them too.  And tell the RBG why you think this is an excessive request, especially in light of their behaviour towards deer. While I love gardens and have enjoyed the RBG in the past (prior to finding out they’re killing deer) It does seem like there are a lot of expensive non-necessary projects sucking up tax dollars while many streets in the area have potholes bigger than Volkswagens.

Flora and FaunaAsk who pays for liability insurance for the bow hunters.  The park was closed, but bow hunters are quite capable of injuring themselves – who is liable?  Inviting more hunting into the community results in increased exposure for the town to liability for hunting-related accidents that are due to town-sponsored deer culls that could exceed the town’s insurance limits. There are currently several lawsuits pending that relate to deer culls in the US. The town and individual homeowners should be made aware of the potential for liability when deer cullers are invited in.

The protest group encourages that communications be sent to the CEO,  Communications Manager,  Board of Directors of the RBG,  but also to many other people  including the Ministry of Natural Resources and  the media.  The hunt was seriously under-reported by the media, despite being contacted.  Perhaps RBG pays to advertise in the Spec and that’s why the issue went underreported.

There are several courses of action suggested.  Up until a few days ago, it was possible to review the RBG on Facebook.  So that avenue no longer exists after they saw their former 5 star rating plummet to 3.5 stars.  You can still leave polite comments explaining to the centre why you have evaluated them, and they will no doubt be removed.  So, we suggest the following options, including posting on various other social media platforms where the comments cannot be removed and will live forever on the internet:

In addition to blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, use Instagram and Tumblr to get the graphic message out.  Use the Twitter hashtags #RBGCanadaDeerKill and #deeroverlilacs.  Add pics to your reviews or statistics about bow hunting.

Mark Runciman is the CEO of the Royal Botanical Gardens.  You can reach him and the other BOD as follows:

http://www.rbg.ca/governanceatthegardens for Board of Directors

Mark Runciman, CEO
905-527-1158 Ext. 221
mailto:mrunciman@rbg.ca

Councillor Brian McHattie (who is on record committing the taxpayers to provide part of the $20 million funding requested for the RBG rock garden), responded to questions and complaints with the following:

“The deer issues being dealt with by RBG are part of a larger, regional issue. Wildlife population management is a provincial responsibility under the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). Royal Botanical Gardens approached the Haudenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority (HWHA), representatives of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, because of their relationship with Dundas Valley and Ontario Parks (Short Hills). The HWHA has experience instituting deer harvests that may help manage deer populations.

So, in summary not an easy solution but one that was taken for the benefit of the RBG plant collections. I know they are committed to doing a very limited hunt (ends shortly) this year and reviewing the experience thoroughly before taking any next steps.”

You may email him at mailto:brian.mchattie@hamilton.ca

Tys Theysmeyer, biologist and head of natural lands at RBG is on record that “cull will have to continue.” He needs to be formally challenged and asked to provide evidence of “research and efforts” truly made by RBG to effectively manage and protect any threat to plants, especially necessitating a deer cull.
You can email Tys at mailto:ttheysmeyer@rbg.ca

Thank you.

(Graphic) Aftermath of the Hunt

(Photos by various protesters and other conscientious objectors)