Province cancels deer-cull program for needy families

A pilot project to allow hunters in Saint Andrews to harvest nuisance deer meat and feed dozens of low-income families in the area was cancelled just before it was supposed to launch. 

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

But the initiative was quietly cancelled to allow the New Brunswick's Department of Health time to assess whether there are any risks to food security. 

"If you don't have something and you didn't get it, it's not as bad as having it taken away from you," said Donna Linton, a co-ordinator for the non-profit organization. 

Linton said about 30 families in Charlotte County expressed interest in the deer meat to eat over the winter. This would've fed at least 56 children in the area. 

Food insecurity 'an issue'

The Town of Saint Andrews, which is trying to cope with a growing deer population, said it would 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. 

Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said her office started looking into operational and food licence requirements that could support the project. But it will need more time. 

"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.

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Instead of the 40 pounds of deer meat per family, they're being offered hot dogs and hamburger meat through the local food bank.

"They have a food insecurity issue and specifically protein," Linton said. "They were just hoping they could secure some food to get them through the winter."

While most of the families told Linton they had never hunted, they do have experience with deer meat.

"All of the families have had experience cooking it and were aware of the different seasoning flavours that you can do," she said.

"It's just kind of sad."

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The poverty line in that area of Charlotte County is about $24,000 a year, but many people try to get by on half that amount.

Many families who would've benefited from the pilot project either lost a job or are living on disability.

"When there's grandchildren living in the home, often they're living on the grandparents' pension." 

But Linton is hopeful the project will be able to go ahead next year.

"We're not letting it go."

Deer population a big problem

Brad Henderson, deputy mayor of Saint Andrews, said the project would also decrease the town's deer population.

In August, residents of the town took out a full-page newspaper ad calling on the province and the town to do something.

Henderson said he was told by Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland that the project would go ahead sometime this year.

"One challenge could be another challenge's solution," he said.