VICTORIA -- Introduced to the Southern Gulf Islands near Victoria in the early 1900s, invasive fallow deer from Europe have been slowly eating away at Sidney Island’s ecosystem, and now a cull is being considered to stop the destruction.

The invasive deer have significantly degraded the health of Sidney Island’s at-risk coastal Douglas fir forests – including Garry Oak forests and meadows – making it one of the least ecologically diverse islands in the region.

Now, Parks Canada, Sidney Island community members, local First Nations, the B.C. government and Islands Trust Conservancy are working together on a proposal to actively restore the natural ecology of Sidney Island by removing the invasive fallow deer, managing invasive plants, and supporting native plant recovery.

"The aim of the project is forest restoration," said Ben Tooby, the project manager for the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

"The removal of the invasive fallow deer is just a small piece of the puzzle and right now we are still in the consultation phase," he said.

A tremendous effort by Sidney Island community members over the last 30 to 40 years, and traditional harvesting by local Coast Salish First Nations in the National Park Reserve, has reduced the fallow deer population to a level where some native plant recovery has been possible.

However, according to Parks Canada, ongoing monitoring work has found that there has yet to be significant increases in plant diversity.

Until the invasive fallow deer population is removed, effective restoration of Sidney Island’s forests will not be possible, and efforts to control population size must be maintained indefinitely, according to Parks Canada. The eradication of invasive fallow deer is now being considered to restore the island’s natural ecology.

"Any eradication that would move ahead, all project partners would have to have to come to that vote in agreement on the method," said Melissa Banovich, the acting superintendent for the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve for Parks Canada.

"So there have been methods of eradication that have been (looked at), however that hasn’t been fully decided until a pre-trail eradication would take place, ideally this winter season," she said.

Parks Canada is inviting public comments from now until June 17, which it says it will carefully consider.

"Having all of the communities together is the perfect timing to move forward with this project," said Banovich. "To ensure collective commitment to the recovery and preservation of the island’s natural environment."

Where deer enclosures have been built on Sidney Island, native plants and shrubs are returning to a normal, pre-deer ecosystem. These areas are small though in comparison to the amount of restoration work needed to help the entire island’s ecosystem return to normal.

Sidney Island is part of the unceded territory of Coast Salish First Nations. The northern portion of the island, including Sidney Spit, is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. The southern part of the island is privately owned by a community of people who own strata lots and manage approximately 1,500 acres of common land. The southern end of the island also includes Islands Trust Conservancy covenant lands.

There is speaker series that the project steering committee put together for those wanting to learn more about the project which can be found here.