Invermere Deer Close to Home
Friday, March 23, 2012
District council hears from and questions anti-cull group
The group that is suing the District of Invermere over its decision to proceed with a culling of urban deer within town limits appeared before council last night with the message it wants to work with the town.
However, council members expressed reservations, pointing out the lingering matter of the civil lawsuit against the district by 14 residents.
Charles Lamphier, recently named as chair of the Invermere Deer Protection Society (IDPS), which held its first official meeting as a non-profit society March 12, said the focus of its 150 members is “looking for solutions for deer protection in the valley.”
The society membership includes 75 district residents, 135 Regional District of East Kootenay residents and 40 “part-time” residents, Lamphier said, adding he sees it as “a potential volunteer group” for the town to work with.
He then outlined lingering concerns, including clover traps being left in public view, garbage and composting and said he’s been pleased to see the district take active steps on some concerns presented, aside from stopping the cull.
As of today the district’s contractor has culled 19 animals. With only two more days remaining on the provincial government permit, which expires March 15, it is highly unlikely the district will hit its allowed target of 100 deer.
Lamphier said as far as he is concerned, the cull is over and done with.
“We really need to address the division in the community because of the cull – we need to move on and mend these relationships,” he said.
Education is vital moving forward, Lamphier said. “We should take Bear Aware one step further and include all wildlife,” he said, pointing at the Bow Valley community as an example worth studying.
“We should begin immediate non-lethal deer strategies,” he said, such as “soft having solutions – humane methods,” as well as education programs.
Council members expressed a variety of comments, though a common-thread was they didn’t think they could work too closely with the IDPS because of the pending civil suit.
Coun. Justin Atterbury said he had to ask the hard question, and asked Lamphier what he thought about the money it was costing Invermere taxpayers for the district to fight the civil suit.
“I can’t speak for the group on it. Personally, the court action was to grow awareness to this,” Lamphier replied. “The cost… you know… I don’t know –it was more a stop-gap to draw attention. Personally, I’d like this to be the last cull in B.C. It’s an unfortunate fact that litigation costs money on both sides.”
District chief administrative officer Chris Prosser reported the district has paid $25,000 on the matter, “as Friday last week (March 9). There is still some paperwork to be done.”
“There is some awkwardness and potentially legal issues for us” to speak too closely with members of the IDPS, said Mayor Gerry Taft, asking Lamphier if they would consider withdrawing the lawsuit.
“That is possible. It is open for discussion,” Lamphier responded.
Coun. Spring Hawes, who said she found Lamphier “very eloquent” and appreciates the offer to work collaboratively with the district, noted “there have been quite a lot of pretty personal attacks – and a lot said that is not necessarily true. There has to be a level of confidence and trust.”
Lamphier replied: “We chose to live here because of the wildlife and we have to accept them.”
“Everyone wants to work together but we have to be cautious about how much we share with someone who is suing us,” suggested Coun. Greg Anderson.
“You have to think about that. Unfortunately, your name is on the lawsuit,” he said, asking how much the IDPS had spent lawyers?
Lamphier said, “it is” and admitted to being uncomfortable about that fact.
IDPS member Devin Kazakoff stood up and noted “we don’t make that public,” referring to the money they’ve spent. He also informed council that “a lot more than 14 people” wanted to be a part of the civil suit.
“We can settle this out of court if you want,” he concluded, sitting down.
Atterbury, factoring if the IDPS had spent as much on lawyers as the district, suggested the possible $50,000 outcome on both sides could have been better spent in the valley.
“Province-wide, I think it might be a good thing. We stood up for something we believe in,” Lamphier said.
Atterbury pressed that he is worried about the potential precedence that could be set from a group launching a civil lawsuit against the district for a decision it has made. “My fear is the next decision we make – are they (members of the public) going take us to court?” he said, adding the money spent so far on the suit will result in a one per cent increase in taxes for Invermere ratepayers.
Seated in the gallery, Doug Morcom rose to suggest the heated issue began “because there was not enough input from local people.”
Taft said public consultation “is a two-way street. There was an 18-month process – well documented in the local papers – advertised – lots of information. If only we knew this issue was going to be controversial at the last minute.”
However, he admitted he is glad the district now has a group such as the IDPS to work with in the future.
“Eighteen months – two years ago we struggled to fill the (Urban Deer) Committee,” he said.
Lamphier then apologized for not being involved sooner and promises he will remain involved.
“I’ve never been involved in politics,” he said, adding he also never believed a cull would proceed.
Anderson reiterated the district’s precarious position toward the IDPS.
“As long as that’s out there (law suit), it’s very difficult to have a legal discussion. In fairness to the public we can’t expend any more of their money. We cannot go there. We have to be very mindful of the public confidence.”
Lamphier replied, “You can put that right on the table.”
“It is on the table,” Anderson responded.
Kazakoff interjected, “We can have our lawyers meet your lawyers.”
Hawes said it would likely cost taxpayers a couple of thousand more dollars for such a thing.
“We are a very small organization. We are very careful” with the public’s money, she said.
“From our perspective we can’t communicate with you guys until that suit stops. It can’t be used as leverage – we’ll drop the law suit it…,” Atterbury said.
“It is a legally touchy issue,” Taft added.
After another IDPS member rose to speak about the pending law suit, CAO Prosser advised Taft to halt the conversation.
“That is something for the courts to deal with,” he said.
Prior to ending the presentation, Taft asked the IDPS members if they condone or encourage interference with cull traps distributed in the district, noting that some traps have been “tampered with.”
“No, I don’t know anyone in our group that is tampering with traps,” Lamphier concluded.
Taft also told the three-quarters-filled council chambers that the district will not be seeking a two-extension of its cull permit.