Why we oppose the deer hunt in Dundas Valley Conservation Area

Introduction

There are many aspects of the annual Haudensaunee deer hunt in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) that need to be cleared of the smoke and mirrors that surround this highly controversial issue.

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First and foremost, the questionable treaty rights claimed by the Six Nations based on the so called Nanfan Treaty (or 1701 Treaty of Albany). This is a huge topic and I am covering it in three separate posts, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Secondly, the alleged overpopulation of deer in Dundas Valley is dubious. Before 2011, the deer population could have exceeded the carrying capacity of the DVCA, as deer were regularly seen feeding in frontyards and surrounding streets at night. Large herds of deer were feeding in farmers’ fields adjacent to wooded areas. This is no longer the case. The number of deer in DVCA today is much smaller than it was then. For the last seven years, I have been conducting an independent study on deer movement patterns in Dundas Valley and my numbers are clear – deer population has drastically declined during the last two-three years.

The 2010 Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) estimate, based on a one-time helicopter fly-over and count in one part of the area, was not reliable, as deer distribution in Dundas Valley is never uniform. Deer are constantly on the move, their distribution depends on the season, weather and food available, and therefore cannot be averaged for the entire Dundas Valley area. There were years in which large numbers of deer migrated to the East (between McMaster and Princess Point). In other years, most deer herds moved West, towards Mineral Springs and Paddy Greene Road.

Thirdly, any hunting quota considered by the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) should take into account the number of deer taken on private lands by hunters other than Haudensaunee. One of the non-native hunters wrote to me, “I shoot three deer a year down in the valley on private lands I have permission to hunt.” There are many such hunters and many private properties in Dundas Valley. Their harvest significantly decreases the deer population and must be included in any calculations. By the way, the legality of killing deer entering private lands from a surrounding conservation area needs to be clarified. I believe that wildlife populating conservation areas is an integral part of the protected ecosystem.

Fourthly, the official excuse for the controversial annual deer hunt in DVCA is misleading. The hunt has been presented to our communities as a necessity resulting from the so called “Nanfan Treaty” that allegedly grants the Six Nations hunting rights in this area. It now turns out that it is the Ministry of Natural Resources that is asking the Iroquois to further increase the scope of deer hunt in Dundas Valley. In an article by Chase Jarrett, “Deer hunters worry band council involvement will hurt treaty,” published in the Turtle Island News on May 23, 2013, we read:

“Now Ontario has gone over the HWHA’s head and approached band council, asking for more hunters from Six Nations and New Credit to participate, indicating that more deer need to be taken before if park environments are to become healthy.“Well over 100 deer in there that could be harvested without impacting the herd,” said Paul General, band council’s Wildlife Officer. He said the MNR wants to allow more people to hunt.”

Finally, efforts should be renewed to prevent fragmentation of deer habitat in Dundas Valley. Despite declarations and policies to the contrary, the Dundas Valley ecosystem continues to be invaded by new developments. Some traditional deer crossings, connecting different parts of deer habitat in the Valley, are being compromised in the process. This restricts deer movement, creates local overgrazing, and contributes to traffic hazards. It is the shrinking and fragmented habitat that creates the impression of deer overpopulation.

There was a time when protecting integrity of the Dundas Valley ecosystem was a priority that was taken seriously by all stakeholders. It seems that this time is now gone. I wander why? Is there a corruption and some money changing hands under the table, or is it the ignorance and “I don’t care” attitude of today’s officials? Or, perhaps, both?

An alarming example of this problem surfaced around the permit issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources for the development of a huge mansion at 1134 Mineral Springs Road that is currently under construction. This mansion – (some local residents call it “The Monster House”) – is being built on land that technically does not belong to the Hamilton Conservation Authority but is an integral part of the Dundas Valley ecosystem.

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A small house and a shed once stood there, located close to Mineral Springs Road, with a large, green space extending south, all the way to the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail. Deer used to pass through this field and feed there regularly at night. Now, the field is gone, as the construction of the house, its various extensions, and the pool took most of this space.

Surprisingly, neither the City of Hamilton nor municipalities of Ancaster or Dundas have jurisdiction over development and planning in Dundas Valley. Any development and planning must be approved by the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC). On NEC recommendation, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) issues or denies the final permit.

The NEC hearing, re. the development at 1134 Mineral Springs Road, took place in December 2010 and January 2011. A few local residents, including Dave Carson and Patrick Bermingham, opposed the project [ 1 ], [ 2 ], [ 3 ], [ 4 ]. There was no objection from the City of Hamilton. The Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) was consulted, noted that the house was being built close to environmentally sensitive areas, and suggested certain conditions pertaining to the size of the house, its distance from the surrounding forests, and location of the septic bed.

In June 2011, the NEC hearing officer sent his recommendation – not to approve of this development – to the MNR. In February 2012, the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources overruled the NEC recommendation and awarded the permit. No environmental assessment was conducted, no environmental impact statement was ever completed. When asked, the MNR failed to provide a meaningful explanation why it had reversed the NEC recommendation.

The construction had started, the house is being built. It further reduces deer habitat, but evidently, lots of lettuce can buy exceptions even with the MNR. We ask a reasonable question, “Does MNR stand for ministry of ‘protecting’ or ‘exploiting’ our natural resources?” Perhaps ‘exploiting’ – yes, but ‘protecting’ – not in Dundas Valley. The same MNR is now asking the Six Nations to increase the scope of the deer hunt in Dundas Valley Conservation Area. Perhaps, more room needs to be cleared of wildlife for more  Monster Houses.

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