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Bowen Wildlife: Friend or Foe?

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

Bowen Agricultural Alliance (BAA) and Bowen Island Food Resilience Society (BIFS) are looking to understand the issues of bird and mammal damage to crops and livestock that arise when humans and other animals coexist in a shared environment.

And, while “pests” aren’t the most upbeat topic to start off a new year, it is an opportunity to create solutions – together.

The question in the title of this article is far more complex than we can resolve in a short newspaper article. What we are hoping to initiate is a dialogue about how to support biodiversity on Bowen Island without relinquishing our food gardens and chickens (for instance) to predators.

For centuries, humans have assumed a place of dominance over nature. And, while some indigenous cultures have lived far more harmoniously with nature, many of our predecessors privatized land and laid claim to nature's bounty. Forests, fields, mountains, and oceans have been exploited to provide food and material for human comfort and profit. As we reach the limits of some of our natural resources, it has become increasingly apparent that domination is not a sustainable strategy for the survival of our species, let alone others.

But, if black squirrels brought from England long ago eat all the hazelnuts, deer ravage nearly every type of plant, and mink destroy chickens by the dozen, how do we propose to live in balance? Are these problems getting worse? What are people doing to control rats or cats or birds from damaging their crops? Are there island-wide measures that we can take that would benefit us all without harming wildlife?

David Griffiths, an avid food gardener and a volunteer coordinator with the Bowen Farmers Market accepts that some damage comes with the territory. "We have fruit trees, gardens and a flock of 25 to 45 chickens, and we've had some level of pest pressure on all three. The fruit trees - apple, pear, and fig - have been picked clean by birds in various years. Poultry-wise, we've lost three hens during day-time attacks (ravens, dog, mink) over 6 years, but I think that's pretty reasonable.”

Like most gardeners on Bowen, the primary culprit around David’s property is deer. “If there's an opening in the fence, it's amazing how fast the deer discover it. We've lost some kale, Brussel sprouts and blueberry bushes to a family of deer that found their way in last winter," says David.

BAA and BIFS have created a short survey to identify which pests predominate and where, and what deterrents are working. You can help us figure out the nature of Bowen’s ‘pest’ problem and if, as a community, we can find solutions. It should only take 5-7 minutes, and here’s the URL:

Despite many challenges, more people than ever are growing some of their food at home. The summer Farmers Market continues to draw visitors and bring out an amazing array of local products and produce, even during the pandemic. Grafton Agricultural Commons (The Commons) has become a place of learning and connection for experienced and aspiring gardeners -- from students and teachers to dozens of volunteers.

As the past two years have demonstrated, opportunities for change abound. The world may be out of balance and polarized, but we can begin doing things differently.

This article was originally published in the Bowen Island Undercurrent on January 6, 2022. Author: Susan Swift

Addendum: After this article was published, we received a couple of inquiries and the following response from Susan was printed in a Letter to the Editor on January 20, 2022.

Not only did I include cats as a crop pest (while there are many complaints about cats and their impact on wildlife and biodiversity they aren't associated directly with crop damage) --- I also misidentified the evolution and source of Bowen's squirrel problem.

I received a couple of very nice corrections from Melissa Harrison informing me that

black squirrels are not from England but originate in Eastern Canada. (She called them a "melanistic form of the eastern grey squirrel".)

She reminded me that our local native squirrel is the Douglas Squirrel, and that we have flying squirrels as well.

But, back to the subject of cats (I have a beloved cat at home). The pest survey that I was trying to introduce in the article includes a question about whether the respondent has had any experience with predators deterring rodents. That was an indirect reference to the role of cats hunting mice and rats. And, for more about that, I encourage both the lovers of cats and their detractors to read: The Lion in the Living Room, published by Simon and Schuster in 2017.

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