Kim Westad, The Vancouver Sun

Some Saanich Peninsula farmers want a cull of the deer destroying their crops, but realize there may be little public appetite for shooting the cute creatures that can threaten livelihoods and food.

Kildara Farm in North Saanich lost its strawberry crop this year in a few days, as deer nibbled their way through 6,000 plants.

“We had three — one, two, three — strawberries off the plants. That’s it,” said Brian Hughes. “There needs to be a regular cull. Because they have no predators, they’re just going to keep flourishing unless something is done.”

The deer also ate peas and beans and have started in on the squash at the Chalet Road farm.

Deer have been a nuisance in the region for several years, but haven’t attacked crops the way they have this year, Hughes said.

“They seem to be growing in numbers every year and we’re at a critical point now,” Hughes said.

Central Saanich Mayor Jack Mar was up at 5 a.m. yesterday, hurriedly erecting a fence around the broad beans the deer have taken a liking to. “Am I having problems? There are anywhere from four to nine deer on each parcel of land,” said Mar, who believes a regular cull is needed in the entire region.

In hunting season, deer can be shot with guns that use pellets or buckshot, Mar said. As well, a property owner can get a licence to shoot deer for crop protection. Mar hasn’t done that, but has given permission to local First Nations hunters to kill deer. First Nations are allowed to hunt with a bow and arrow, Mar said.

Deer have proliferated throughout the region, stripping show gardens of their foliage, seemingly immune to dogs or busy streets.

But while urban dwellers have to put up with deer stripping their rose bushes and ornamental gardens, Saanich Peninsula farmers lose parts or all of their livelihood when deer come to dine.

That’s what led North Saanich council to unanimously agree on a motion to ask the Union of B.C. Municipalities to tackle the issue at its September conference.

They want the province to work with the Canadian Wildlife Service on a policy to “mitigate and prevent the damage and destruction of crops” caused by growing populations of deer and Canada geese.

“We see deer every day on the road and in the meadows and that’s relatively new,” said North Saanich councillor Anny Scoones, who brought up the motion.

North Saanich has a large rural component, with numerous farms and hobby farms.

“My wish would be that we could all live together in harmony, but I don’t think density and growth is going to allow that,” said Scoones, who believes increasing density is one of the reasons deer are being driven out of their natural habitat.

A cull could be difficult in an agricultural neighbourhood such as North Saanich, where homes are adjacent to farms, she said.

“There may be other options, maybe tranquilizing and relocating them,” she said. “They’re pretty, elegant and soft animals. My personal opinion is culling should be a last resort.”

Barbara Brennan at Bailiwick Farm in North Saanich might have lost her kiwi crop to deer. They nibbled the farm’s 110 vines, eating all the new shoots. She won’t know until the fall, when the kiwi are to be harvested, if the vines survived to bear fruit. The deer have also chewed bark off the farm’s 200 walnut trees. If the bark is chewed completely around the trunk, the tree will die. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a worry.

“We’ve been growing kiwis for 28 years and this is the first time we’ve had damage,” Brennan said.

She’s talked to the RCMP, who have told her she can apply for a licence for a hunter armed with a bow or rifle to shoot deer.

“The farmer doesn’t have to do it themselves. We’re thinking about it, but the problem is those fawns are so darn cute. It would be really hard.”