On November 3 the annual traditional Haudensaunee white-tailed deer harvest at the Short Hills Provincial Park, bordering St Catharines, has begun. The harvest is exclusively archery oriented and will be running from November 3,4,17,18,29 &30. The 660 hectare park will be closed to the public and is monitored by Park staff, as well as police. The first harvest was completed in 2013.
Ontario Parks representative Greg Wilson stated that the entire park is not being used and there is a 150 meter buffer zone between the park and private property. Wilson stated that the parks deer limit for a sustainable forest is about 50 but according to an aerial survey done in December 2017 the deer population was estimated at 545. Reforestation efforts in the park have been hampered by the deer eating saplings as soon as they are planted and the competition for food by the deer because of the population is 10 times over the sustainable limit. Mr Wilson also stated that research is being done on the harvested deer gathering information on age, sex and diet information to get indicators to see if their health is degrading due to the overpopulation. Wilson says that he has a good relationship the Haudensaunee community that does the harvesting here.
A group comprising of indigenous peoples, local residents and concerned Canadians, named Six Nations Right To Hunt, are gathering in support of the hunt and having educational workshops everyday of the hunt. Celeste Smith of the Onieda Nation who resides in the Niagara area involved with group stated Short Hills is one of three parks selected to exercise our treaty rights and the MNR has ecologists and biologists in the park studying the deer.
We also have anecdotal evidence of people living beside the park having the deer eating the ivy off their homes in the winter because they are so hungry. They are feeding on local farmers corn and beans which has lead to smaller skull development which will eventually leads to disease. They are altering the creeks and making them change directions with the soil erosion caused by them traveling on the banks. Every plant from knee height down in the park is an invasive species that the deer are ingesting.
According to their spokesperson Robin Zavitz, a group of protestors against said they don’t believe there is an overpopulation of deer. They do admit that they don’t know how many deer are living in the park. They feel that the ministry hasn’t done an appropriate or complete environmental assessment of Short Hills Park to justify a deer culling reduction which is mandatory.
Zavitz also stated that the overdevelopment of the nearby Font hills area has given the deer no place to go but shorthills park.