Sidney Island is a special place. Through the SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ - “Taking Care of Sidney Island” project - Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is working collaboratively with local First Nations, island residents, and the Province of BC to restore a globally-unique forest ecosystem by reducing deer impacts and repopulating native vegetation.

What’s the issue?

The Coastal Douglas-fir forest is a unique, at-risk ecosystem that Canada is globally responsible to protect. Gulf Islands National Park Reserve’s land base is primarily Coastal Douglas-fir, but the ecosystem is under threat from over-browsing by deer.

On Sidney Island, invasive European fallow deer have cleared the forest understory by eating tree seedlings and understory vegetation. The damage is so extreme that native and culturally-significant plants are absent, habitat for songbirds and other wildlife has been reduced, and the forest’s resilience to climate change has been compromised. On other islands within the national park reserve, an overpopulation of black-tailed deer are causing similar issues. Though black-tailed deer are native to the Gulf Islands, lack of predation and limited Indigenous hunting has caused their population to outgrow the forest’s ability to support them.

Contrast between lawn-like forest understory and lush understory within the deer exclosure.
The contrast is obvious between a fenced-off area inaccessible to deer (left side of fence) and an area accessible to deer (right side of fence). Photo: © Todd Golumbia

What's our approach?

Parks Canada is working collaboratively with First Nations, Sidney Island residents, the Province, and Islands Trust Conservancy, to plan for the removal of fallow deer and subsequent forest restoration on Sidney Island.

Parks Canada is communicating with local communities, stakeholders, and the broader Canadian public to ensure that the public’s concerns and values are incorporated into the planning and implementation process.

Parks Canada is also working with First Nations to increase Indigenous deer harvesting throughout Gulf Island National Park Reserve to prevent black-tailed deer overpopulation.

Once deer management and forest restoration plans are implemented on Sidney Island and throughout the national park reserve, forest recovery will be monitored regularly, and restoration activities will be adjusted if necessary.

What's been accomplished?

  • 2018: Parks Canada began to work with representatives from W̱SÁNEĆ and Cowichan Nations to facilitate hunter training and hunting mentorship programs, including annual firearms training for community members and scheduled hunting times within the national park reserve. Working with Indigenous hunters is a critical component to managing native deer populations over the long term.
  • 2018: Initiated consultation with First Nations, Sidney Island residents, the Province, and Islands Trust Conservancy to form a collaborative restoration initiative specific to Sidney Island, known as the "Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project (SIERP)". The purpose of this initiative is to collaborative develop a proposal for forest restoration on Sidney Island, including options for the removal of invasive fallow deer.
  • Spring 2021: Produced a SIERP proposal for community and Indigenous consultation. At this time, Parks Canada also engaged with the public through regional media outlets, and solicited feedback on the proposed fallow deer removal through the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry.
  • Fall 2021: Project partners built and planted ten fenced exclosures across  Sidney Island for the purpose of re-establishing native and culturally-significant plant species.
  • 2022: A final decision from SIERP project partners on whether they approve implementation of the proposed removal of fallow deer is anticipated in late Spring 2022. If partners support implementation, the operation will take place in two phases: Fall/Winter 2022-23, and Fall/Winter 2023-24.
  • 2022: Planning for current and future native deer management within Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is ongoing. Currently, funding has been secured to continue this work until Spring 2024.