November 2013 edition

Wildlife, wild strife

After reading the article “Wildlife, wild strife” I wondered how the writer and the scientists questioned could overlook the most glaring example of the species that is doing the most damage to the environment, mowing down whole hillsides of native species of trees, plants and wildlife habitat, building highways through wildlife corridors, erecting more and more cell phone towers across the countryside,which are taking a terrible toll on songbirds, polluting streams and rivers, spewing poisons into the atmosphere, creating dams and pipelines, changing the face of the Earth forever. How can that compare to the damage done by a deer who has lost his/her natural habitat and has been forced to migrate into our urban one for survival? 

The deer is being made the scapegoat here because we can’t admit that we are the most destructive species this Earth has ever seen.

Val Boswell


Thanks for the great story by Maleea Acker on the deer question.

Our Garry oak meadows are endangered ecosystems (95 percent gone in Canada). They are now living museums and their conservation requires thoughtful commitment. The removal of invasive plant and animal species, including deer, is completely justified.

The predictable reaction of so-called animal lovers and animal right activists is perplexing and reflects a high level of ecological illiteracy. Homo sapiens is arguably the worst invasive species of all, but at least we can choose to be part of the solution.

Jacques Sirois


Regarding the photos chosen to illustrate deer browsing of native flora on page 30 of the last edition, my observation: D’Arcy Island displays a young stand, open grown, full of light; Sidney Island, an older, mature stand of shade tolerant trees with closed crowns.

Forests go through several stages of growth as they age. The Sidney view shows no green growth on the ground. It’s a climax forest regime—not caused by deer.

But now, say I were a deer: I’d swim over to D’Arcy for the tasty green groceries.

Bob Seeds


Maleea Acker responds: Bob Seeds is correct that a coastal Douglas-fir forest is a climax ecosystem that can be found on both D’Arcy and Sidney Islands, as well as most other Southern Gulf Islands. This forest state, however, does not preclude a healthy understory, no matter its age. Coastal Douglas-fir forests include over 100 species of trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and mosses. Shrubs and other understory plants thrive in Douglas-fir forests of all ages. Proof of the impact of fallow deer on Sidney Island has been established by biologists like Dr Tara Martin in UBC’s Zoology department. Her co-authored publication “Browsing down our natural heritage: Deer impacts on vegetation structure and songbird populations across an island archipelago,” available online, provides solid evidence of the impact deer have on forest and meadow ecosystems. Perhaps the best proof of the impact of deer on Sidney Island is in the state of several exclosure pens, small areas fenced since 1986 to exclude deer. Understory shrubs in the exclosure areas of this climax coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem are profuse and diverse; outside of the exclosure, where deer browse, there is virtually no understory. 


A suggestion concerning the over-population of deer: In sectors of the city we should relax the leash law for dogs. My dog died 15 years ago and then the deer arrived. I have 2.37 acres on Queenswood Drive and have lived there for about 50 years. I have seen the pheasants and quail disappear and the red squirrels be replaced by the grey. Bush rabbits and three small herds of deer take up residence and get more aggressive as time goes on. One five-point buck stands on his hind legs, grabs and shakes a limb of my best apple tree so that all the deer now have diarrhea and leave a mess on the lawn. We have lost all the native flowers, there are no small trees and I can see my neighbours and hear the cars. 

When people walked their dogs on Queenswood off-leash there were few deer and racoons, no rabbits and no grey squirrels. If dogs were loose, the deer would vanish and Garry oak, arbutus, grand fir and flowers would return.

Bob O’Brien


I have received a number of comments from your readers about my garden which was mentioned in Maleea Acker’s article in the October Focus. They [think it must have been devastated] or imply I must be confused to undertake new plantings in a garden frequented by deer. Yet in a recent lecture by John Lucas on “The Art of Oak Bay’s Gardens,” my garden was characterized as an expression of “the spirit of the land.” 

It ought to be clarified that I live beside Walbran Park, a natural home for a herd of deer which have created their own wildlife corridors. I am happy to attempt to harmonize this garden in keeping with the park, as I have seen four of my next door neighbours’ places subdivided, cleared and built upon in years past.

In microcosm, this garden symbolizes efforts at rewilding—the reintroduction of more native species in communities throughout the world. As the planet’s human population expands and destroys natural habitat, wild species are adapting to urban and unusual conditions. Where this doesn’t occur, species can be threatened and extirpated. If we are compassionate when caring for plant species, we welcome animal life in creative ways of co-existing, protecting one from the other where necessary. 

The article did not mention that there are numerous deer resistant species in the garden, and two walk-in deer-proofed enclosures. I am delighted that the deer prune some native plants like snowberry that had been invasive; if the deer overdo the job, I ought to take steps to protect the snowberry bushes.

Native friends have recommended more indigenous species, and a demonstration garden that could help others through experimentation. Thus I tend not to be upset when deer chew on something they fancy, as one can learn through making mistakes. Being vigilant is the key. For example, I find that if deer repellent sprays are applied in timely fashion—particularly as tasty new buds open up—the spraying tends to be effective.

I do support deer population reduction through non-lethal means such as the SpayVac contraceptive.

At the gathering outside Oak Bay Municipal Hall protesting council’s vote for a deer cull, one of the children was asked how he would feel if deer were killed. He paused thoughtfully, then replied “lonely.”

Marion Cumming


As I watch a young buck quietly lying down in my backyard or a doe and her fawn munching an apple from my tree or grazing a bush, I can’t help wondering what their fate will be now that the deer “cultural carrying capacity” has been exceeded as some say.

Unlike biological carrying capacity, which has a precise scientific basis, the cultural carrying capacity is a made-up concept which has nothing to do with biology and objective science, and everything to do with human intolerance. 

The author of the article “Wildlife, Wild Strife” in October’s Focus listed a number of parameters and data supposedly indicating a “deer problem”: population trends, collision statistics, crop loss information, Lyme disease and complaints are the main ones. Each one of these can be easily refuted.

The estimated deer population mentioned in the article (45,000–65,000) is misleading. Those numbers are virtually the same as three years before and the uncertainty is such that it is not possible to make any conclusion. By comparison, according to Provincial data, the Vancouver Island deer population in the 1960s and ’70s was in the order of hundreds of thousands and therefore it has markedly declined.

Deer-collision statistics are inconclusive at best and the published data tables show ups and downs in the last few years with no clear trend. 

As for crop loss information, there is no official data provided by farmers. The survey mentioned in the article is the only non-official document available. 

Lyme Disease is not a significant problem in BC and deer are not directly responsible for transmitting the infection to humans.  

There were 400 solicited complaints to the CRD in the summer of 2011, which, to this date, remain the only official documented ones from residents. I would hardly call these a “surge of resident complaints” as the writer reports in her article.

The Citizens Advisory Group appointed by the CRD admits in its 165-page report that the evidence is anecdotal and that no reliable data is available.

Despite the obvious lack of objective evidence, the advisory group decided last year that there is a significant increase in deer-human conflict, and recommended that the CRD implement a series of lethal options against our deer.

The two members who resigned from the committee speak of an “irretrievably flawed” and biased process. The advisory group, which included farmers and a bow hunter, was heavily unbalanced in its composition and markedly favoured pro-cull solutions during its meetings. Given these premises, the outcome could not have been any different.

The BC SPCA recently released a very strong statement in opposition to the proposed cull. Here are two excerpts: “An indiscriminate cull which neglects considerations for gender and age class is unethical and contrary to generally accepted principles of wildlife management.” And: “Based on lessons learned from other North American cities dealing with this issue for the past 20 years, the proposed cull actions are not a scientifically-sound or sustainable solution.”

The BC SPCA also encourages the enforcement of existing bylaws and a more comprehensive management including the implementation of non-lethal management actions.

Environment Canada is also quoted as saying: “Lethal control techniques or culls should be a last-resort option and should not come before serious attempts have been made to control the situation through other means”.

The Focus article makes no mention of the results of deer management attempts in other BC jurisdictions:

Kimberley killed 100 deer, only to have the deer count rise three months later. Cranbrook conducted a secret cull in February which infuriated residents from both sides. Invermere’s cull ended abruptly by an injunction and a lawsuit by Invermere residents. 

The emotional and social impact involved is evident in other communities, especially where the barbaric and inhumane clover trap/bolt gun method has been used. The pilot project proposed in several municipalities of the CRD is totally unnecessary given the previous experience already acquired in BC and elsewhere. 

What about alternatives to lethal methods? Farmers should take responsibility and invest in fencing with the help of the provincial government. Fencing works, especially if you allow a wildlife corridor beside it. In fact, many farmers within the CRD have successfully fenced their properties and don’t have any problems with deer. 

In addition to proper fencing and wildlife corridors, there are many other non-lethal measures available to reduce human-deer conflicts such as public education, altering human behaviour to avoid attracting deer, highway reflectors along roads, lowering speed limits and signage. The immunocontraceptive SpayVac has been used in BC in the past and could be available to licensed biologists within a short period of time. In the long term, a more comprehensive management strategy should be implemented instead of a short-term ineffective action.

As for damage to native plants, I am no expert; however, there is no doubt that humans are the most destructive invasive species on the planet and therefore should take responsibility instead of conveniently putting the blame on the innocent deer. 

Finally, the image of humans being the “keystone species” who “historically” have the right to decide the fate of any other animal or plant species on Earth is a convenient self-centered attitude which can be and is actually used to justify any abuse of nature in the name of the almighty homo sapiens.

It seems that some residents of our community have lost their tolerance and ability to co-exist with our wildlife. This is of great concern to me, as the very foundation of life in our province and on Vancouver Island has always included nature, our forests and our wild animals.

Nabhraj Spogliarich


Bridge design changes again

It was discouraging to read in the September 2013 Focus that the truss design of the new Johnson Street Bridge has changed. But, am I really that surprised?

The original design parameters of the new Johnson Street Bridge began disappearing well before the November 2010 referendum. The first thing to go was rail. How did this happen? Well, it appears we may have first been attracted to purchase a bargain-priced refurbished bridge that included rail. Once interest had been piqued, and during the “apples and oranges” comparison period, we were told the refurbished bridge was no longer available, but that a slick new bridge was and if we agreed to borrow $42 million to purchase it right away we could get it at a lower cost; we were told rail could be added later.

To help sell the planned replacement bridge, the City next launched as part of its “Vote Yes” campaign a polished “fly-through” video. Superlatives such as “one-of-a-kind,” “iconic,” and “a bridge of the future” were used to persuade. Now we learn the truss design has been dumbed down from the original sophisticated concept.

Also changed from the original concept is the navigational channel width. It shrank from 47 to 41 metres. And disappeared, too, is the safety space on the outside of the bicycle lanes. Yet another change is that the concrete piers of the current bridge will be left in place.

It’s been three years since Victorians went to a referendum giving mayor and council the green light to borrow $42 million to build a bridge whose cost has today ballooned closer to $100 million. Is it too much to expect accurate information, including a complete and accurate drawing of the bridge design?

I feel cheated, perhaps even swindled. After all, this is not the bridge I didn’t vote for.

Carmel Thomson


Money for nothing (and the drugs for free)

I would like to commend Rob Wipond for his informative and well-researched articles on the frequently unhealthy relationship between doctors and drug companies. There is no man/woman of steel who is not influenced by big pharma’s marketing. 

Doctors do benefit from continuing medical education conferences sponsored by drug companies, but must recognize there is always industry bias—why else would drug firms sponsor them?—and disclosures by speakers do not guard against the bias. It is possible to have medical conferences funded by universities and attendees’ fees, and there is a real need for them.

Another important area pertains to advertising to the public. It has been shown to increase patients’ demand and use of advertised drugs whether or not they actually need them. 

While Canada does not permit direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, we receive it through the American media. Our government should disallow all DTC drug ads from airing on TV or anywhere. Against such an onslaught nobody is a superman or superwoman.

Christopher Lam, MD


The polyp police are coming

Great article by Alan Cassels and very informative. Just wanted to check one number under “Colonoscopy by the Numbers” on page 56. Is “Percentage of colon cancers that happen in patients considered at average risk with no family history of the disease: 75 percent (Wilshut)” correct, or a misprint? The percentage seems high.

J. Seguin

Alan Cassels responds: The number is accurate. Which is to say, three quarters of the people who are deemed “average risk” (most of us) are the ones who develop colon cancer. 


Conversations towards democracy

I love Focus magazine, and consider it the best source of commentary available in the CRD. However, I must comment on the irony in your latest editorial, as it was about the importance of listening. I attended “The Walrus Talks” at the Belfry and heard Shelagh Rogers talk. She did not mention Robertson Davies. She told about her embarrassment when, as a young interviewer, she had to interview Timothy Findley, author of The Wars (and many other great books). He had won the Governor-General’s prize for that book, and she mistakenly thought that he had won a military medal. Obviously, you weren’t listening as carefully as you are urging us all to do. But I agree that it was a wonderful, and thought-provoking, evening, and I’m glad you mentioned it.

Jillian Ridington

Editor’s note: Ironic indeed. Apologies to Shelagh and Timothy.


Time to stand together

Having just listened to a CBC report on Stephen Harper’s visit to Malaysia, where he was offering up BC’s natural gas resources to foreign investors (leaving us sorry BC inhabitants to worry about the environmental mess), I felt thoroughly disheartened. Fortunately I was reading my September Focus at the same time, and was fortified by two articles that are twice as good if read together: Katherine Palmer Gordon’s “The importance of listening” and Dorothy Field’s “It’s time to stand together.”

You bet it is; the faster our corporate-sponsored governments give away this province’s (and country’s) natural resources, subsidized by us (witness the $100 million or so our federal government used to bring the Enbridge proposal up to snuff for the NEB), the more we as citizens have to protest in cooperative ways. As Ms Gordon states, “It is time for Canadians to take matters into their own hands”; and Ms Field: “Standing together, indigenous and non-indigenous, is the only way forward for the health of all, and we’d better get on it right now.” 

Thank you for that important reminder, Focus and your outstanding reporters/writers.

Susan Yates, Gabriola Island


Poppies for peace

Victoria Women in Black had many responses last year to the article Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic wrote about our White Poppies for Peace. Once again Women in Black will be making and giving away our White Poppies to individuals, community groups and schools. They will be available at our November 7 vigil, noon-1 pm on Douglas Street beside City Hall, or if they are needed earlier we can be contacted at 250-595-7519.

Thanks again, in peace,

Theresa Wolfwood, Victoria Women in Black


Killing the golden goose

People in the Discovery Islands made a strong argument recently that choosing not to log their area would make more economic sense, bring more money in for the province, and create more jobs. Logging was slated to go ahead, but since the article “Killing the golden goose” appeared in Focus’ September 2013 edition, the new minister for small business and tourism, Naomi Yamamoto, has opened a dialogue with tour operators. 

People intuitively feel that the choice to leave natural resources where they are can be more lucrative in the long run, but they don’t have the information to make a winning business case. Daniel Arbour of Ecotrust, myself, and a few others are trying to crunch the numbers and see what the impact has really been in the Tofino area. 

The BC government’s Clayoquot Land Use Decision of 1993, the resulting massive protests, plus the Scientific Panel standards of 1995 greatly slowed logging of old growth in Clayoquot Sound. While every other coastal logging town in BC chose to log almost everything, Clayoquot Sound has followed a different path. And while some local people still lament the loss of forestry jobs, a study has never been done on the actual economic impact of the Land Use Decision and science panel standards. 

Today, Tofino/Pacific Rim is the most lucrative marine wilderness destination in BC. Stats Canada data show that employment did not decline here between 1991 and 2011, compared to other areas, despite the choice to drastically reduce logging. The value of real estate has shot up in Tofino particularly, which is a mixed blessing, but shows a strong local economy. And yet…we still have most of our old-growth forest, the golden goose that will keep giving (if we let it live).

A 2009 Ecotrust report concluded that the Tofino area had adapted to the Clayoquot Land Use Decision well by expanding the tourism economy, but warned against relying solely on that. Since then the area has developed a higher education initiative, and people are working on other plans to build a sustainable economy.

The consequences of our resource decisions are apparent to the eye, and it will be interesting to see if the same is reflected in the numbers. Towns like Port Alberni or Powell River that decided to log every last stick so “no jobs would be lost” have windows boarded up and are in decline. The fact is, forestry ended anyway: They ran out of trees. If we in Clayoquot Sound had chosen to keep cutting, as some people would have preferred, where would we be today? 

Patrick Canning, Tofino


A word from our subscribers

Please consider the enclosed cheque a donation and not a subscription. I don’t want to add to your running costs by adding the expense of mailing us a copy of your magazine.

What we do want to do is show our support and express our appreciation of the very, very fine work you are doing on behalf of the Victoria community. Your writers are top notch and your investigative journalism is comprehensive and necessary. We look forward to every issue.

Keep doing what you are doing!

Jessica and Jonathan Whittingham


Clayoquot Sound 20 years after the protests

Those of us lucky enough to have driven the Trans-Canada Highway to its western limit at the village of Tofino, BC have found a region of unparalleled natural beauty. Clayoquot Sound is, quite simply, one of the most incredible places in the world. 

The convergence of the open Pacific Ocean and one of the last ancient temperate rainforests on Earth has created a legendary ecosystem. It is home to vibrant First Nations cultures and rich traditions, and it is also an historic focal point of the Canadian environmental movement.

In the 1980s and ’90s, destructive logging in Clayoquot Sound sparked the iconic War in the Woods—the forest conservation movement that drew world-wide attention to British Columbia’s shockingly unsustainable coastal logging industry. In the summer of 1993, more than 10,000 people made their way to Clayoquot Sound to protest the clearcut logging of much of the region’s ancient rainforests. Close to 900 people were arrested—making it the largest peaceful blockade in Canadian history.

For Clayoquot’s original inhabitants, the connection to this place goes much deeper. The Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations have lived and thrived in the Sound since time immemorial, sustainably managing their resources and developing an intimate and sacred relationship to the lands and waters. 

Today, conservation efforts are driven by First Nations people, who fight not only for the ecological integrity of Clayoquot Sound but also for their Aboriginal rights and title. 

While much work is still being done to find workable, lasting solutions in Clayoquot, the region does not have the same profile as it has had in the past. Campaigns like those against tar sands pipelines and tankers dominate public discourse, while logging in Clayoquot—a formative issue for Canada’s environmental movement—is widely viewed as one that has been resolved.

One of the biggest threats to Clayoquot Sound is this myth that it has been protected. 

Despite being designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and despite having globally significant intact watersheds and some of the biggest trees in the world, much of Clayoquot is still in danger.

Foreign-owned salmon farms and massive mine proposals have joined old-growth logging in putting constant pressure on the environment and the communities that rely on it. These destructive activities also threaten more sustainable industries like fishing and tourism, and they compromise important endeavours like cultural continuation, salmon rehabilitation, and forest conservation. 

There is an opportunity to make Clayoquot Sound a model for sustainability and environmental responsibility for all of BC, Canada, and the world. The intact coastal temperate rainforest watersheds are some of the last in Canada and they need to be legally protected forever. 

Above all, we must respect Indigenous rights and title and follow their lead in economic development and land management. 

As conservation efforts in Clayoquot Sound continue to evolve, it is critical that we learn from the past—time is running out to make lasting positive change in this region, both environmentally and socio-economically.

To better coordinate conservation efforts, a group of environmental non-government organizations that have been active for decades in the region have formed the Clayoquot Sound Conservation Alliance (CSCA). The CSCA is committed to working with First Nations and communities within Clayoquot Sound to find solutions that work for the region’s forests, its biodiversity, and its people.

On Tuesday, November 12, the CSCA is hosting an event at the Alix Goolden Hall in Victoria to give you a better understanding of the forces at play in Clayoquot Sound since 1993’s historic blockades. It will give us a chance to look at where Clayoquot now stands, and shed light on the challenges on the road ahead.

Panelists for the event include Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada; Saya Masso, councillor from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation; Valerie Langer of ForestEthics Solutions; and John Rampanen of Nuu-chah-nulth ancestry from the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations.

Clayoquot Sound is not only on the edge of Canada, it’s also teetering on the edge between lasting preservation and further environmental destruction. But we still have a chance to do the right thing. With all of its history and all its potential, Clayoquot Sound is a true national treasure—it’s high time we treasured it.

We hope to see you on November 12. For more information visit the CSCA on Facebook. 

Torrance Coste