Point Pelee National Park closed for annual deer cull

·2 min read

Point Pelee National Park is closed for two weeks for the annual deer cull, a partnership between the park and Caldwell First Nation to tackle deer overpopulation.

The park's superintendent said the hunt is done out of "absolute necessity."

Human-introduced changes to the sensitive ecosystem, including clearing the landscape, have driven natural predators out, causing the deer population to grow beyond what the ecosystem can handle, explained Maria Papoulias of Parks Canada.

"We no longer have things like wolves and bears and cougars that would have historically kept the deer population in check," Papoulias told Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette on Thursday.

"And that's why we have so many deer, and their population is growing unchecked here at Point Pelee," she said.

The overpopulation means deer are consuming and damaging the native plants faster than they can return, which Parks Canada says threatens the health of the ecosystem, including species at risk.

A recent helicopter count found there are about 80 to 90 deer in the park, Papoulias said. The ideal number is around 30, she said.

Management of the deer population is a collaboration between the park and Caldwell First Nation.

The hunt itself is done by Caldwell members along with park staff.

"It is our traditional home," said Nikki Van Oirschot, director of operations for Caldwell First Nation. "We were the original residents of what's now called Point Pelee National Park, and it is a source of traditional food for us as well."

The meat collected is distributed two or three times a year to seniors and vulnerable people first, and the hides are used to make moccasins and other crafts, she said.

This year's cull comes at a time when the park has been busier than usual. After being closed for a couple of months at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Papoulias said they have seen "quite large increases in our visitor numbers." In December, the park experienced more than a 50 per cent increase in visitors compared to December 2019.

Despite the increased popularity, she said they did not consider postponing or shortening the duration of this year's deer cull because of the negative effect it would have on the ecosystem.

The park closed to visitors on Jan. 7 and will reopen Jan. 22.