250 deer too many at Parc des Îles-de-Boucherville

Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville is facing a serious problem of white-tailed deer overpopulation, has learned The duty. Official data shows that there are at least 250 deer too many, which has significant consequences for this protected ecosystem. But even though the government has been aware of the problem for several years, it still has not found a solution to resolve the situation.

According to the most recent inventory available from the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP), that is to say that of 2021, there are 299 deer in the Îles-de-Boucherville National Park, a protected environment made up of five small islands located on the course of the St. Lawrence River, between Montreal and Boucherville. Concretely, the density of deer there is 30 animals per square kilometer (km2). By comparison, at the height of the abundance of deer on Anticosti Island, we counted 20 animals per km2.

The growth of the herd in the Îles-de-Boucherville National Park has been very rapid, since their number has more than doubled in six years. In 2015, the MFFP recorded 142 individuals, i.e. a density of 15 deer per km2. However, “according to scientific literature, the density of deer in its optimal habitat should be 5 deer per km2 habitat in order to respect the support capacity of the environment ”, specifies the ministry in a written response.

This means that there are six times too many white-tailed deer in the park – that’s 250 animals too many. In comparison, at Michel-Chartrand Park in Longueuil, the saga of the slaughter of excess deer concerns between 55 and 60 animals in excess, on a herd of approximately 70 deer.

The overpopulation of deer in the national park has negative consequences on this natural habitat protected by the Quebec government since 1984. “This overpopulation of deer has impacts on the flora and regeneration of the forest, the health of deer populations; it contributes to increasing the risk of transmission of diseases and pathogens (including Lyme disease) and of road collisions, ”explains the Société des establishments de plein air du Québec (SEPAQ), in a written response.

According to information obtained from a person familiar with the matter, a dozen young white-tailed deer would also have died last winter, possibly due to the lack of food available to them.

This situation does not surprise Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Quebec at Rimouski. “If we don’t control their numbers, the animals will graze whatever is available in the ecosystem. We can then see mortalities of young people in winter, because they are more vulnerable. Mortalities are likely to increase in the coming winters. We can even fear massive mortalities, ”he argues.

Decision to come

After the controversy aroused in Longueuil, the subject seems sensitive to the MFFP to say the least. The department has not responded to our repeated requests, since December 9, for an interview with a spokesperson. As for SEPAQ, it refused to grant us an interview.

Do you plan to reduce the number of deer in the Îles-de-Boucherville National Park? “No decision has been taken for the moment with regard to this question”, specifies the SEPAQ, by email. The government body says it is “working” with members of the “committee” set up by the MFFP to “find a regional solution to the problem” of white-tailed deer overpopulation.

The ministry indicates for its part that it “coordinates this committee which supports the municipalities and organizations grappling with comparable issues and supports them in the diagnosis of their situation, the analysis of the tools and courses of action according to the similar experiences documented in the scientific literature ”.

In the case of the national park, SEPAQ also recalls that, since 2017, some 17,000 trees have been planted in fenced areas, sheltered from grazing by deer. Twenty-one of these “exclosures” were created in the park to promote the growth of vegetation.

Public opinion

These solutions will not be sufficient to avoid a degradation of the ecosystem and an increase in the mortality of white-tailed deer. “Hunting is the best way to restore the situation,” insists Mr. St-Laurent. “Killing can be done ethically and responsibly,” he adds, noting that all this meat could be distributed to food banks. It would then be possible to intervene to “sterilize” the remaining females, but this operation would have to be done again in a few years.

Mr. St-Laurent points out that moving animals to another natural environment is a bad idea. “If we do that, we move the animals to areas they don’t know. They fall more easily into the clutches of a predator, they are more easily struck by cars, and they have difficulty finding their food. They also compete with the white-tailed deer already present in the environment and they can carry parasites or diseases that were not present in the environment. “

However, the slaughter of 250 deer would be very difficult to convey to public opinion, according to Marco Festa-Bianchet, full professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Sherbrooke. “It’s not a wildlife management issue. It is a problem of managing public opinion. This is a problem that we see more and more in urban areas. There should be an information campaign and measures planned, so that people understand the impacts of deer overpopulation. “

Whether in Longueuil, Montreal or in the Îles-de-Boucherville National Park, it seems however easier not to act, despite the consequences, deplores Marco Festa-Bianchet. “It’s often easier for a politician to do nothing and avoid controversy, even if overpopulation is destroying natural habitats and deer will starve to death. “

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