Ray Galey fires a cap gun into the air above hundreds of geese loitering on his farm.
A dozen or so honk and scatter into the air, before flying a loop and returning to the farmland once more. Most of the Canadian geese barely flinch, they aren’t scared of the sounds anymore.
Galey’s son Rob, runs his fingers through what is left of his raspberry bushes. Normally seven or eight feet high, the tender branches have been nibbled away to the nubs, along with what he said would have been his profits. Farming isn’t as fun for the Galey’s anymore.
“We are the last commercial farming family in Saanich,” Rob said. “There were hundreds of families farming 50 years ago, we are down now to three. We don’t want to downsize.”
With reluctance, the Galeys are letting leases expire on two farming parcels. Next season Galey Farms will drop 25 acres from production on Hastings and Interurban roads, as they can no longer protect the land from geese and deer, which eat through crops on a daily basis. The farm now plays home to deer that live on his property year-round and geese that no longer migrate.
“We took a loss again this year. We had a choice of dropping those properties and cutting those losses or the family was going to lose the farm,” Rob said. “We are utilizing all the resources we have to protect the property in Blenkinsop.”
When Ray and Rob chase geese away, they fly from one of his properties to another. Scaring them off the family’s Blenkinsop properties only pushes them over to one of his other farms and back again. Rob’s daily routine includes scaring deer and geese of his land while his children wait in the car on their way to school.
“I went to scare a buck out of my strawberry field and he put his horns down and ran me,” Rob said. “It was the first time – it made me think twice. What if it wasn’t me, what if it is one of my kids?”
He was able to raise his hands in the air, make himself as big as possible and eventually scare it off, but he fears safety will increasingly become an issue as the deer population is growing rapidly.
“Five point bucks shouldn’t be walking around in Saanich. If mother nature sends a cougar to Saanich to kill the buck, people come to kill the cougar and leave the buck behind,” he said. “They have removed all the predators of the geese and deer and no longer replacing the job mother nature did. If you want to play God, you better realize how big of a job he has before you do it.”
His family has spent more that $100,000 in fencing their properties, an ongoing project, but he says that don’t help. The deer find ways through, and fences trap them in more than keep them out. Deer are learning to dig underneath fencing and teaching their young to do the same, Rob says.
He has been forced to get his staff to stop working, come out into the field to form a human chain to walk them back out the way they came. It is a cost of time and resources he can scarcely afford.
Galey Farms has worked with the the Capital Regional District deer committee for two years – “a waste of time” Rob says. He looks at farming colleagues in Central Saanich who can apply for permits to cull deer and geese and wonders why a solution can’t be found to help him or smaller farming operations like nearby Dan’s Farm.
“People have to see it for themselves, what kind of damage can be caused. (Deer and geese) can wipe out large fields in a matter of days,” said Danny Ponchet of Dan’s Farm in Saanich and Central Saanich. “(Crops) don’t grow back the same way. They just don’t respond in the same way growing back.”
The farmer of 30 years says he has it easier than the Galey’s due to his much smaller operation – but he spends more and more money to protect his crops each year, and wonders if the cycle will ever end.
Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, a former farmer, says she understands the plight of the agricultural community and hopes a balance can be found.
“I would hold a public meeting on it and have a panel with both sides so we hear from the community,” Popham said. “It would include farmers consumers and animal welfare representatives. I am a farmer in my past life and I have had many instances when the deer have gotten into my field and destroyed my whole crop. The frustration is real.”
The former commissioner of the Peninsula Agricultural Commission has even volunteered to help mediate the public meeting.
“The economic devastation is huge. If we support a local food movement and want farmers to stay in business we have to co-operate together with the agricultural community,” Popham continued. “I know in other agricultural communities there are licenses given out to hunt deer and geese that are a problem in agricultural areas. I would support that.”
British Columbia Wildlife Federation director of strategic planning Al Martin said there is no “silver bullet” and hopes the proper balance can found.
“In Saanich and Saanich Peninsula, we have to ask ourselves what level of goose population is sustainable, considering agricultural lands and public safety concerns. It is all about balance. If they continue you will end up with subdivision or more urban land,” he said.
“This should be an area approach. You would put (the farmer) out of business if he needs to solve it himself. Is it in the public interest to have that agricultural area in the Blenkinsop valley? I would strongly say it is, but we are saying ‘this is your problem you solve it.'”