Restoring a globally-unique forest ecosystem by reducing deer impacts and repopulating native vegetation

What’s the issue?

Two men beside a fence which divides the terrain into a section with undergrowth and a section without. The contrast is obvious between a fenced-off area inaccessible to deer (left side of fence) and an area accessible to deer (right side of fence). Photo: © Todd Golumbia

The forests in Gulf Island National Park Reserve are under serious pressure—from deer! On Sidney Island, non-native European fallow deer are gobbling up tree seedlings and understory vegetation. As a result, critical habitat for songbirds and other understory critters has been heavily reduced, native and culturally-significant plants are missing, and the forest’s long-term health is at risk. Some species at risk, like the foothill sedge and Edwards’ beach moth, are being further endangered by these over-eager eaters. On other islands, hyper-abundant black-tailed deer are causing similar issues. Though black-tailed deer are native to the Gulf Islands, a lack of predators and limited traditional harvest by Indigenous peoples has resulted in a population that has, over decades, outgrown the forest’s ability to support them. If left unchecked, fallow and black-tailed deer will irreparably change the ecosystem. Staff at Gulf Island National Park Reserve are determined to limit the damage and restore the forest before it’s too late.

What's our approach?

  • Parks Canada is working collaboratively with local First Nations, Sidney Island residents, the Province, and Islands Trust Conservancy, to plan for the removal of fallow deer and subsequent forest restoration on Sidney Island.
  • Parks Canada is also working with local First Nations to increase Indigenous deer harvesting throughout Gulf Island National Park Reserve. Regular Indigenous harvest is a critical component of the long-term black-tailed deer management strategy, which aims to reduce hyper-abundancy within the park reserve and restore a more balanced forest ecosystem.
  • Once deer management and forest restoration plans are implemented on Sidney Island and throughout the park reserve, results will be monitored and documented regularly, and restoration activities will be adjusted if necessary.
  • Parks Canada will communicate with local communities, stakeholders, and the broader Canadian public to ensure that the public’s concerns and values are incorporated into the planning and implementation process, and to build understanding and support for the project.

What's been accomplished?

  • 2018: Formed an Indigenous knowledge working group with representatives from local First Nations to guide the development and implementation of Indigenous culture camps and youth/elder hunting mentorships.
  • 2018: Parks Canada began to facilitate annual firearms and marksmanship training for community members from local First Nations. These sessions are ongoing.
  • 2018: Initiated consultation with local First Nations, Sidney Island residents, the Province, and Islands Trust Conservancy to form a collaborative partnership under the title of “Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project (SIERP)”
  • 2019/20: Formed a SIERP Steering Committee and two technical working groups to collaboratively oversee and develop the plans for fallow deer removal, long-term black-tailed deer management, and vegetation restoration on Sidney Island.
  • 2020: Contracted the development of a park reserve-wide hyper-abundant deer management plan, including monitoring protocols, so to ensure that deer management and forest restoration efforts are accurately monitored and recorded.
  • 2020: Secured resources to continue planning and implementing the remainder of the project by spring 2023.