For Oak Bay deer, it’s time for birth-control booster shots

It’s round two for birth-control shots for black-tailed deer in Oak Bay, in an effort to get the population under control.

The province is providing $42,366 to match the municipality’s contribution toward the program, which also involves tracking and studying the deer.

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The goal is to prove that the program is successful so other municipalities can follow suit, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said Tuesday.

“If we can’t deal with this at a regional level, Oak Bay is going to be continuously emptying our deer population and it will just get refilled by the neighbouring communities, so it is not a long-term solution, what we are undertaking right now.”

Murdoch said that if the trial shows a meaningful decline in the deer population after two years of contraception, and the immunocontraception proves to be effective, the municipality would be “quite happy” to continue the detailed research portion of the program.

“But we would really like the province to approve the immunocontraception regionally.”

Under provincial rules, birth control can only be administered within a research program, he said. If other municipalities take part, a regional research model could be established.

Other Greater Victoria municipalities also struggle with a high number urban deer, which can be a hazard on the road, along with munching their way through gardens.

The 60 Oak Bay does inoculated last year with an immunocontraception vaccine will be getting booster shots as part of the program, administered by the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society under contract for Oak Bay.

Researchers will watch the does to see if any are pregnant, in order to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Female fawns too young to inoculate in 2019 will receive their first dose of birth control this year, Murdoch said.

A control group of 17 does that were not inoculated in 2019 will be monitored to determine their birth rate, he said.

Oak Bay public works staff picked up about 60 dead deer in 2019, Murdoch said. Some deaths will likely include inoculated does from last year.

“The expectation here is that if we can prevent births — and the attrition is happening — then the deer population should reduce.”

About 100 deer are believed to be living in Oak Bay, according to the stewardship society’s 2019 progress report. The project used GPS (global positioning system) data and cameras mounted throughout the municipality to monitor deer.

Many Oak Bay deer favour areas of south Oak Bay and land in and around the Upland Golf Club in north Oak Bay, the report said.

Research in 2018 found that 20 does had an average home range of 0.14 square kilometres, and an outer range of 0.64 square kilometres, the report said.

GPS tracking is not being continued this year, in favour of additional field work, Murdoch said.

The vaccine program was introduced following a controversial cull in Oak Bay in 2015 that saw 11 deer killed in two weeks.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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