On­tario First Na­tion help­ing in deer cull

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - NEWS - Liam Casey

Cald­well First Na­tion Chief Louise Hil­lier re­mem­bers frol­ick­ing on a beau­ti­ful south­ern On­tario beach as a lit­tle girl. It was quiet and the sur­round­ing veg­e­ta­tion lush.

The seren­ity and peace re­main, but much else has changed at Point Pelee Na­tional Park over the decades. Storms have eroded the point that juts south into Lake Erie. Rare species — like the prickly pear cac­tus that is found in only one other place in Canada — grow there, but in dwin­dling pock­ets.

Time has its way of beat­ing down the park, says Hil­lier, who lived there as a child when cot­tages were still al­lowed. De­spite the changes, Point Pelee, part of Cald­well First Na­tion’s tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory, still holds a spe­cial place in the minds of the mem­bers of the nearby First Na­tion.

“It just seems to have a heal­ing pres­ence,” she says. “And you can’t help but feel good.”

Band mem­bers have long worked with Parks Canada to re­store the area.

On Fri­day, part of the restora­tion con­tin­ues when about 20 band mem­bers along with Parks Canada staff will fan out across the point and start to cull a herd of white­tailed deer that has been eat­ing its way through the rare for­est and sa­van­nah.

This is the third it­er­a­tion of the pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to Lind­say Rodger, the park’s re­source con­ser­va­tion man­ager. Prepara­tory work be­gan in mid-de­cem­ber when a team went up in a small he­li­copter to count the deer. They found 84.

When they started the pro­gram in 2015, there were 192 deer in the park, Rodger says. In 2010, be­fore they be­gan a mora­to­rium on deer culling, there were about 60 deer, Rodger says.

“That’s a short time for the pop­u­la­tion to triple,” Rodger says.

They hope to thin the pop­u­la­tion to 24 to 32 an­i­mals. That’s the range that re­search in­di­cates is a vi­able num­ber of deer — a num­ber that will al­low plants and trees to re­cover. In ad­di­tion to the veg­e­ta­tion that is at risk, there is the risk of habi­tat loss for en­demic an­i­mals.

“As an ecosys­tem, the whole habi­tat it­self is very, very rare,” Rodger says.

“That means the species that de­pend on that habi­tat tend to be quite rare as well.”

The list in­cludes the five-lined skink — a small lizard with cream­coloured lines that is at risk.

“It’s a great lit­tle an­i­mal, a charis­matic mini-fauna as we like to call them,” Rodger says.

There’s also the red-headed wood­pecker and the east­ern fox snake, she says.

Rodger says they’ve seen anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of re­cov­ery in the last two years since halv­ing the deer num­bers.

“There has been some seed re­gen­er­a­tion, but we need to give the trees time to start grow­ing again,” Rodger says.

The deer cull is only part of the park’s restora­tion pro­gram. Parks Canada and Cald­well First Na­tion have also been me­thod­i­cally re­mov­ing in­va­sive species over the years. Last sum­mer, they tar­geted gar­lic mus­tard.

As for the culled deer, they will be shared with Cald­well First Na­tion peo­ple and other First Na­tions, much of it for food, Hil­lier says.

“Last year, the pelts were do­nated to an­other First Na­tion,” Hil­lier says. “They use them as a teach­ing tool to teach their youth how to tan the hides.”

For Hil­lier, the hunt is an­other rea­son to go home.

“I do go down and if they have suf­fi­cient hun­ters, then per­haps I won’t be hunt­ing,” she says.

“I love to be there with the hun­ters. It’s time to be away from the obli­ga­tions of be­ing a chief and to breathe some dif­fer­ent air.”

Post­media file photo

Cald­well First Na­tion band mem­bers along with Parks Canada staff will help cull a herd of white-tailed deer at Point Pelee Na­tional Park.

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