Saturday, December 1, 2007

Controlling Navy Island Deer

Six Nations bow hunters, Parks Canada work together to reduce overpopulation

The Review – Local News: Friday, November 30, 2007


A cull to reduce Navy Island's white-tailed deer population is underway, in a partnership between Parks Canada and the Six Nations native reserve.

Members from several Iroquois communities are conducting an inventory of the island's natural resources, as well as reducing the deer population using only the traditional method of bow hunting, under an agreement with the federal agency.

"This could become an incubator for a new generation of hunters with traditional values and traditional skills," said Paul Williams, a Six Nations resident who chairs a committee overseeing the project. "

A sport hunter will go up to a dead deer and say, 'Look at the size of these antlers.' A traditional hunter will go over and put down tobacco and give thanks to the deer and thanks to the Creator for the amount of meat they will be able to take home to their families."

The venison will be consumed at the Six Nations reserve near Brantford.

"This is not a sport hunt. This is a strategy that's part science, part reducing the number of deer," said Kim Seward-Hannam, superintendent of national historic sites with Parks Canada.

There are between 60 and 80 deer on the 1.2 kilometre-long island on the Niagara River, according to a study conducted in 2002 for Parks Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. An island that size can really only sustain 10 or 15 deer, Seward-Hannam said.

Navy Island is located about seven kilometres upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. It is accessible only by boat and the land is maintained in its natural state. The island is considered a national historic site and visitors are not allowed to remove or damage any plants, shrubs or flowers.

Signs have been erected on the island to notify visitors of the project.

While there is a resident deer population, deer regularly swim to the island from nearby Grand Island and the Canadian mainland.

When there's a wealth of vegetation on the island, the deer population can be high.

"When the undergrowth gets depleted from years and years of eating, the number of deer that can be sustained is quite low," said Anne Yagi, a ministry biologist.

The animals basically eat "everything six feet and under," which can upset the delicate ecosystem on the island that includes several rare plant and tree species such as pawpaw and mockernut hickory, Yagi said.

Fort Erie conservationist and environmentalist Dan Andrews visits Navy Island often and says the damage caused by the animals is evident.

"The island is absolutely littered with deer. Some areas have been decimated by foraging deer and the forest floor is disappearing."

When there is no food, the deer are too weak to swim back to shore and many starve to death.

In past years, controlled hunts have been held to cull the herd.

Individuals would submit their names in a lottery-style program that limited the number of hunters on the island.

At least one local hunter is unhappy with Parks Canada's decision on the latest hunt.

"This is federal Crown land and everyone in Canada should have been given the opportunity to hunt there," said the Niagara Falls resident, who did not want to be identified.

The hunter participated in the last controlled hunt in 1997 and said he should have had the chance to return.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters agrees the current deer population needs to be reduced, but the agency questions why licensed hunters cannot take part.
"Bow hunters will be hard-pressed to harvest the 50 or more deer it will take to begin to restore health to Navy Island herd," said Ed Reid, a wildlife biologist with the federation.

"It is hoped that in future Parks Canada will make the opportunity for Six Nations and licensed hunters to co-operate in a common conservation interest."

Reid said sport hunters also respect their quarry, and are as equally supportive of conservation projects as Six Nations communities.

Seward-Hannam reiterated the initiative is not a sport hunt, Rather, it's a collaborative project with aboriginal communities.

"They are helping us with the preservation and presentation aspects to restore natural resources," she said.

One of Parks Canada's goals, she added, is to work more closely with aboriginal communities on projects of mutual interest.

Reducing the deer population is the first stage of a larger project between the two groups.

The first phase is expected to last through January. Future initiatives include investigating ways to ecologically restore the island floor and to work together on archeological sites.

Meanwhile, research continues into the long-term effects a large deer population can have on the small area of land.

In 2005, Parks Canada and the MNR erected expansive barricades around certain areas of the island.

Known as "deer exclosures," the fences are designed to keep deer out and vegetation in.

"What we saw was a lot of regeneration of the forest in those areas and a lot of rare species coming back in," Yagi said.

According to the Niagara Parks Commission, which leased Navy Island from Parks Canada until 2003, the island's first inhabitants were natives who used it for fishing and building canoes.

They referred to the island as Big Canoe.

The French took over the island in the 1700s and used it as a naval base. At that time, the island was referred to as Ile la Marine or Navy Island.

Wicked Wild Life Fund

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