British Columbia

Major deer kill to provide school lunch meat and marksman training for Haida Gwaii

A massive deer eradication on Haida Gwaii will mean venison for school lunches and marksmanship training for local youth.

Haida Gwaii wiping out destructive deer on 6 islands

Officials say an overabundance of deer, like this blacktailed Sitka on Ramsay Island, is destroying traditional plants on Haida Gwaii. (Andrew S. Wright/Parks Canada )

A major eradication plan will wipe out every last deer on a half dozen islands on Haida Gwaii.

The deer kill will also bag fresh meat for school lunches, line up marksmanship training for local youth and lock in plans to fix a damaged landscape.

Officials say the blacktailed Sitka deer have become a destructive force on the archipelago, 200 kilometres off the B.C. mainland.

First ferried here by the B.C. Game Commission in 1880, the diminutive deer have flourished and spread to virtually all of Haida Gwaii. 

Invasive deer fill freezers

On the main islands, they're everywhere: slow moving, easy to spot, and a key source of food. 

They're beginning to damage the ecosystem in an almost irreparable way- Tauren Collinson, Parks Canada technician

"We use as much of the deer as we can," said Laina Holland, a Haida woman who hunts. "We use the hides for drums, the hooves for Haida regalia. We eat the meat.That's what we eat every year: fish in the summer, deer meat in the winter."

Deer destroy traditional plants

But there's a darker, side to the ungulates' abundance.

"We have a special situation here on Haida Gwaii," said Tauren Collinson, a resource management technician with Parks Canada.  "The deer don't have any predators so there's no real control for their hyper abundance and they're beginning to damage the ecosystem in an almost irreparable way."

Officials say foraging deer are damaging Haida Gwaii's plant life. (CBC News/Carolina de Ryk )

"They'll eat almost anything," said Wilson, the Haida elder. "They eat all the plants we would ordinarily use as our own food. If you see we don't have much of anything, it's because we have lots of deer."

Eager to restore their damaged ecosystem and armed with Parks Canada's cooperation, the Haida will search out and destroy every single deer on six of Haida Gwaii's 200 islands.

The islands targeted for eradication are Hotspring, Ramsay, Murchison, Faraday, House and Bischofs,

The deer will not be eradicated from Graham Island, where most people live.

Marksmen train local youth

Professional marksmen will train local young people to assist in the deer cull, starting this month. 

"We are giving them the most humane death we can by having professional marksmen come in and train our young Haida and young islanders [to assist]," said Robyn Irvine, a conservation and restoration manager with Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

After the deer are gone, traditional plants and animals decimated by more than a century of deer foraging will be regenerated and restored.

Meat for school lunches

The deer cull will also be a windfall for school lunches.

Meat from the eradication will be processed locally and used in hot lunch programs and cooking classes across Haida Gwaii.

Grade 11 student Brayden Bell cooks bannock at Gudangaay Tlaats'gaa Naay Secondary School in Masset, B.C., with Shelley Crack of Northern Health. Next on the menu? Venison. (CBC News/Carolina de Ryk )

Inside the Gudangaay Tlaats'gaa Naay High School in Masset, students are already busy learning to cook venison and prepare deer for students' lunch plates.

"We make it into deer jerky," said Brayden Bell, a Grade 11 student. "It's better to know how to cook before you get too old. 

"I know the kids are happy," said Charlotte Marks, an educational assistant. "We're teaching them life skills, like how to live on Haida Gwaii."

To listen to the story, click on the link labelled Why deer in Haida Gwaii are now in the crosshairs