Deer cull program for needy families postponed because of COVID-19

·3 min read

New Brunswick's Department of Health postponed an assessment that would look at the risk of giving nuisance deer meat to dozens of low-income families in the Saint Andrews area.

In the fall of 2019, the Department of of Natural Resources and Energy Development announced that deer meat would be donated to the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County Inc.

The initiative was later cancelled to give the Department of Health time to assess any risks to food safety.

Then COVID-19 happened.

"This work is still a priority and we hope to be able to do the review before the 2021 season," said Bruce Macfarlane, a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

In an email, Macfarlane said the province wasn't able to conduct a risk assessment in time for the 2020 hunting season because it was focused on its pandemic response.

At the beginning of the year, Chief Medical Officer of Health Jennifer Russell said her office was looking into operational and food licence requirements that could support the project.

CBC News file photo
CBC News file photo

"We will be conducting a cross-jurisdictional scan to see if other provinces have food safety programs in place for similar initiatives and if there are ways to implement control measures to help reduce risks and allow this kind of donation," Russell said in an emailed statement to CBC News in January.

Saint Andrews Deputy Mayor Brad Henderson said he's disappointed the program has been put on hold but understands why.

"I think it's a reasonable ask and a reasonable expectation," he said.

A food-source for low-income families

As long as the province and municipality work together, Henderson said, he's optimistic the program will run in the future.

"It's not like we're reinventing the wheel."

The area has also had a longtime challenge with food insecurity in the area.

Henderson said more than 150 families asked for help this year from Santa's Helpers, a local fundraiser that's he's part of that helps feed local families at Christmas.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

"It was another food source for low-income families … 45 pounds of venison could be the difference between putting food on the table and not," he said.

"To use one challenge to be a solution for another, it seemed like a natural fit."

In the past, town council said it would also pay to have the meat processed in the St. Stephen area, and it would eventually be donated through the volunteer centre to families in need.

Henderson said that will depend on who's elected to council this upcoming spring.

"I think it's definitely something the municipality would consider doing."

A growing deer population

For years, the Town of Saint Andrews has also been trying to cope with a growing deer population.

Henderson said a typical community of its size would have between three and five deer per square kilometre. In Saint Andrews, there are more than 20 deer per square kilometre.

"People have hit multiple deer coming in and out of town," he said. "There's been situations where motorcyclists have hit them … there's been deer that have actually run into people."

A nuisance deer hunt season still took place in the Saint Andrews area this fall. Each hunter was allowed to hunt two does.

Henderson isn't sure how many deer were killed but said the population is still growing.

"Right now, we're continuing to lose the battle."