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Growing Food for Us or Them?

Tips and tricks on how to protect and preserve animals and vegetation on Bowen, along with residents' opinions on various local 'pests'
A deer
Deer on Bowen Island in February 2021

Bowen Island Food Resilience Society and Bowen Agricultural Alliance held a Zoom forum last month to promote discussion about how we grow food, deal with mammals and birds, and simultaneously support biodiversity on Bowen.

The Zoom began with Susan Swift’s report on the survey conducted by Bowen Island Food Resilience Society and Bowen Agricultural Alliance. This report was followed by three resource speakers: Bonny Brokenshire (Bowen Island Manager of Environment and Parks Planning), Kim Sinclair (Executive Director of Coast Animal Welfare and Education Society), and Dr. Alejandro Frid (ecologist and science coordinator for the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance), each speaking from their experience and area of expertise.

In addition to humane and biodiversity concerns, options for dealing with “pest” mammals and birds are constrained by legislation at all three levels of government. Bonnie Brokenshire told the forum participants that beavers, skunks, mink, raccoons, and otters are protected to varying degrees by provincial legislation; or that while you can trap an animal that is causing damage on your property, you are responsible for contacting a provincial Conservation Officer for permission to humanely kill it; and that pest control companies who capture animals on your property are most likely releasing them somewhere else on the island; and second generation coagulant rodenticides are currently banned in B.C.

Because Bowen doesn’t have top predators such as bears, cougars, and coyotes (apart from infrequent visitors), animals such as deer, raccoons, skunks, and mink populations meet with few obstacles, and their numbers go unchecked. Without natural population control, these mammals have become a threat to small livestock and vegetable gardens on the island.

So, what can we do? A variety of ways to address unwanted mammals and birds in our gardens and on our farms were recommended by the resource speakers and by other participants at the Zoom forum and fall into categories of ‘deterrents’ and ‘trapping.’

Deterrents included a wide range of suggestions:

  • having ‘guard’ animals; llamas were recommended,
  • installing cages or electric fencing,
  • using a variety of scare devices such as CD’s hung on fruit trees (use lots!), drones, and noises,
  • making small bags filled with repellent smells (e.g., Zest soap) to ward off rodents, dabbing on Nilodor, and spraying (Bobbex) to keep deer away,
  • storing garbage and organic waste indoors as long as possible and then securing when outside, and keeping pet food inside only,
  • attracting rodent predators by installing tall poles for raptors, and boxes for owls,
  • harvesting nuts and fruit early to ripen indoors,
  • never feeding wild animals, but leaving water away from your food growing area may divert them.

Trapping troubles

Trapping animals is a more problematic option, not just for legal and humane reasons, but also for ecological reasons. Snap traps, effective for rats, are also effective for animals that have a valuable role in Bowen’s natural web -- deer mice, voles, shrews, and songbirds. And traps that don’t kill animals immediately can cause them stress and pain. As well, success is most probably going to be temporary because other animals of the same or different species will move in to fill the vacant territory. If you do want to use traps, it’s best to consult with provincial Conservation Officer Services.

In addition to the suggestions raised during the Zoom forum, Kim Sinclair referred people to the pamphlets that Coast Animal Welfare and Education Society (CAWES) has published on alternatives to rat poison and living with skunks. (Both pamphlets can be downloaded from the municipal website.) You can contact CAWES for help in finding humane solutions to protect your garden from hungry critters.

Alejandro Frid spoke of two types of non-native plant species: those that are invasive, like holly, and those that are naturalized, like plantain. The former invades and conquers the land to the detriment of other species; the latter finds a niche and co-exists. The question of how we work to support a diversity of plants and animals on the island while growing food to support our own species will be an ongoing one.

Alejandro explained that the Indigenous Peoples’ sense of “place” extends for thousands of years into the past, and so their approach to cultivating food is one that is based on being a natural part of where they live, and co-existing with other species. Ultimately, the question for us is: How do we act to ensure that we are naturalized contributors where we live, not an invasive species?

Both Bonny Brokenshire and Kim Sinclair welcome you to contact them: Bonny Brokenshire - BBrokenshire@bimbc.ca or telephone at 778-897-3296; Kim Sinclair - cawes.bowen@gmail.com

Some Facebook pages where you can share and discuss problems with food growing and raising animals were also suggested during the zoom forum:

  • Bowen Gardeners - https://www.facebook.com/groups/bowengardeners
  • Chicken and Farm Talk for Nexwlelexm/Bowen Island - https://www.facebook.com/groups/443071306844223

Some participants on the zoom expressed interest in ongoing meetings to share problems and solutions on these issues. As well, approximately 25 per cent of the 88 respondents to the Pest Survey said they would be interested in working collectively to find solutions, with an additional 45 per cent saying they might be interested. The links above might be places to organize these get-togethers.

Jackie Bradley is interested in this conversation and is willing to get it started if others are interested. Since we are into gardening season, perhaps the fall would be a better time to have this discussion. If you want to be part of this, email her at jacksbee@hotmail.com

Pest Survey Summary of Results

Author's note: During the zoom call and in the responses to the survey, some people objected to the word “pests” as inappropriate. It contributes to a ‘human-centric’ perspective that leads away from concern for animals and a natural balance in the ecosystem. While we acknowledge the validity of this perspective, we are using “pest” here because it was the original name of the survey, and we don’t want to pretend otherwise.

The Pest Survey was distributed in December 2021 and January 2022. Eighty-eight (88) surveys were returned, with responses coming from all over the island.

Eighty-five percent answered, ‘Yes’ to the question, “Have birds or animals every adversely affected your production or harvest?”

The survey captured a diversity of attitudes and methods for dealing with animals in gardens and with livestock that the Zoom forum did not. Some of the survey respondents expressed the view that we should try to find ways to get along with nature, including animals perceived as “pests,” and that humans, rather than animals, are the problem.

Several people said they weren’t worried if some of their crops were eaten by animals. Others advocated shooting animals, and some said that in the past they had trapped and killed animals by, for example, drowning. Poisoning of rats, sometimes in desperation, was also mentioned. (Rodenticides are now banned although there are exemptions.)

Fencing and caging seemed to be the most consistently successful strategies, although maintenance was mentioned as important (otters can pull out screws, etc.). Owls were said to be very helpful in reducing the rat population. Cats were mentioned as good for dealing with rodents, but, on the other hand, some people advocated strongly for keeping cats indoors because they kill non-target, beneficial species.

In addition to responding to the issue of animals and crops, a number of people expressed concern for an over-population of deer, and some suggested culling their numbers.

Those respondents who said they had experienced a loss or damage to crops listed which “pests” were the culprits.

Deer topped the list at 64% followed by squirrels at 61% – and almost half the people (49%) said rats were a problem. More than a third (37%) listed skunks as a culprit. Crows, ravens, and other birds were a close fifth with 31% reporting they had lost some of their crops to birds.

Almost half the respondents – about 47% – said that they had measurable to significant crop loss due to animals and birds in 2021, and 34% saw an increase in harm from previous years.

Not to diminish the effects of the occasional beaver, rabbit, or river otter, most of Bowen Island’s problems stem from a handful of artful mammals and birds. It appears that growing nuts on the island is just for squirrels, and berries go to the birds.

Rats have taken a bigger role than in the past, and we are still battling deer, despite knowing that keeping fences secure makes all the difference. Skunks continue to menace the chickens along with mink and raccoons. Domestic cats and dogs were mentioned too, but along with slugs and insects, we didn’t focus on those critters during the forum.

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