Parks Canada has temporarily closed Point Pelee National Park to the public due to an overabundance of deer. The park, located on a Lake Erie peninsula in southwestern Ontario, will remain closed from January 5 to January 20 while Parks Canada conducts deer reduction activity.
“Parks Canada is responsible for maintaining and restoring ecological health in national parks. A high population (hyperabundance) of white-tailed deer in Point Pelee National Park is a serious threat to forest and savannah health and the species that depend on these precious habitats,” the agency said in a statement.
Park staff said that Point Pelee can sustainably house between 24 to 32 deer. The current deer population is estimated at 61 to 73 deer, more than double the park’s capacity. “Point Pelee National Park is home to a large amount of leafy vegetation, experiences mild winters, and, most importantly, lacks natural predators such as wolves, bears, and cougars which would have normally kept the deer population in balance,” the agency said.
The problem with too many deer
With so many deer left unchecked, native plants are being consumed faster than they can regenerate, damaging the health of the park’s Carolinian Forest, home to at-risk species such as the red mulberry tree, Eastern wood-pewee, and Eastern fox snake. Parks Canada said the deer are also impeding the restoration of the Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannah. This globally rare ecosystem supports 25 per cent of the species at risk in the park, including the five-lined skink.
What’s the solution?
To reduce the deer population, Parks Canada has partnered with Caldwell First Nation, whose traditional territory encompasses Point Pelee, to hunt the deer. “The population of White-tailed deer is reduced by means of an organized annual cull,” park staff said in an email.
Using rifles, 15 to 20 members of Caldwell First Nation and park staff will hunt the deer in the mornings and evenings, when the animals are most active. This cull is not a recreational hunting opportunity, staff stressed. “It is a resource management intervention designed to reduce a major threat to the continued health of the park.”
These annual culls with Caldwell First Nation have been happening since 2015. On top of keeping the park’s ecosystems healthy, the reduction activity also provides Caldwell First Nation members with the opportunity to mentor youth and strengthen traditional connections to the land while sharing knowledge and expertise with park staff. Caldwell First Nation keeps the meat and hides from the deer, using them for personal, community, and ceremonial purposes.
Hunting the deer has proved effective and more efficient than relocating them, Parks Canada said. “Trapping and relocating deer has been investigated by the park and by other sites in Ontario. Unfortunately, this method does not offer a long-term solution to the problem because of a lack of other available habitats to put deer, very high costs, as well as low survival rates as a result of relocation efforts.”
Point Pelee will reopen to the public on January 21.