Tuesday, 23 November 2010
While the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government threw the country into turmoil yesterday, I hope he will not do the same to the deer in question this evening. Will he restrict the issuing of section 42 licences for female deer from May to August to enable calves to become independent? This matter has been brought to my attention by people involved in wildlife conservation who have asked that the Minister not issue any more section 42 licences to kill lactating female deer from May to September, inclusive, as this practice has condemned hundreds of young deer to starve to death. While it is accepted deer can cause damage, female deer should be controlled at the correct time of the year. The current practice does not amount to sound environmental practice. Many summer young fawns will lie away from their mothers such that female deer will often appear not to have a calf at foot. The Irish Deer Society's policy is that deer should be properly managed, shot during the proper legal hunting season from 1 September to 3 December for male deer and 1 November to 28 February for female deer. Section 42 licences should only be issued in cases of extreme damage and under no circumstances for female deer from May to August. If female deer are to be culled in September and October, the calf or fawn at foot must be taken first.
The Minister may be aware of an article entitled, "Mr. Gormley's Double Standards". I am bringing it to his attention not as a cheap shot but to highlight a factor that may have been overlooked in the drafting of wildlife legislation. Why would one want to shoot a lactating deer with a calf at foot when the calf could subsequently die of starvation?
I thank the Senator for raising this matter and would first like to explain my responsibilities in respect of deer. All deer are protected species under the Wildlife Acts. Accordingly, deer may only be hunted under licence issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The open season for most deer species, including Red, Fallow and Sika, operates annually from 1 September to 28 February, depending on the gender and age of deer. This reflects the conservation needs of the species and genders concerned. For example, Muntjac deer are considered to be an invasive species and can be hunted at any time of the year.
The Department carries out localised annual deer counts on lands such as national parks. Where appropriate and depending on the annual count and instances of damage caused by deer to habitats, especially woodland, culls are carried out to ensure deer populations do not reach levels that would have negative ecological consequences. Control of deer on private property is the responsibility of the landowner who may apply to the Department for permission under section 42 the Wildlife Acts to cull deer when this is necessary outside the annual open seasons. A section 42 permission is a facility enabling a person to obtain permission on a case-by-case basis to take action against a protected species, including deer, which can include the scaring, capturing or killing of the said species in a situation where serious damage is being caused to agricultural crops, forestry plantations, other fauna, etc. They are subject to decisions taken by the conservation staff in the Department.
At all times the welfare of animals is taken into consideration. I have power under the Wildlife Acts to attach conditions to section 42 permissions which can prohibit the culling of female deer during a certain period. I have included such conditions in many section 42 permissions issued in recent months. For example, during the months from May to August this year over 30% of the section 42 permissions issued for deer excluded the shooting of female deer. In exceptional circumstances it is sometimes necessary to control female deer and their dependent calves.
I consider the procedures in place in my Department adequately protect female deer during the breeding season. I will examine the points raised by the Senator and see if my Department could be more vigilant in the matter.
I am delighted the Minister made an exception this summer and ensured over 30% of the section 42 permissions issued for deer excluded the shooting of female deer. It is important, however, that it is made policy in order that it will be the exception rather than the norm that permissions are issued during the lactation period of female deer.