SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ - Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve


Listen to W̱SÁNEĆ (hw-say-nitch) Elder JSIṈTEN (j-sing-tunn, John Elliott) say SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ (skw-thay-munn kwuh-nay-lth uh-nuck shay), which means “Taking Care of Sidney Island” in the W̱SÁNEĆ language of SENĆOŦEN (sen-chaw-thunn).

Protecting a unique forest

A tree with red, peeling bark.
Arbutus trees, with their unique peeling bark, are an iconic species of the Coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem type.

If you have visited Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, you have seen one of the most at-risk ecosystems in the country: the Coastal Douglas-fir forest. Parks Canada is one of several project partners  who are working together to restore this globally unique forest ecosystem on SḰŦÁMEN (pronounced skw-thay-munn, Sidney Island). 

The Coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem is only found along the southern coast of British Columbia and parts of Washington and Oregon. It occurs in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula, which means it receives much less rain than neighbouring areas. The result is a dry, sunny climate that hosts an incredible diversity of plant and animal species, including rare and at-risk species such as those found in the iconic Garry oak meadows of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Protecting this special ecosystem is one of the reasons that Parks Canada established this national park reserve in 2003.

Restoring an eco-cultural landscape

Parks Canada works with local First Nations to protect and share stories about the rich cultural history of this region. The biodiversity found here is a legacy of a millennia of active ecosystem management by First Nations peoples. Prior to European colonization, First Nations peoples tended to this landscape in a variety of ways, including through eco-cultural burning. They also regularly visited and harvested foods and medicines from the many islands in this region, including SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island). 

W̱SÁNEC knowledge holder ŚW̱,XELOSELWET (sh-hw-hull-aw-sull-wutt) Tiffany Joseph shares more about the connections between the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples and SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island):

W̱SÁNEĆ peoples once lived in the winter village of ȾELXOLU (tsull-hall-oo) on what is now known as Sidney Island. The islets named by settlers as Sallas Rocks were known to the W̱SÁNEĆ as XEXMELOSEṈ (huh-mull-awe-sung) long before settler arrival. What Parks Canada calls Eagle Islet, the W̱SÁNEĆ say is known better to them as SḰEḰEŦÁMEN (skwuh-kwuh-thay-munn). When W̱SÁNEĆ people would paddle from their villages on the Saanich Peninsula and were crossing to their villages in the San Juan Islands, JSIṈTEN says the people would take a stopover at W̱YOMEĆEṈ (hw-yaw-much-ung) to take a break. W̱YOMEĆEṈ means place of caution. Perhaps this was a reminder to the W̱SÁNEĆ people to look after themselves in their travels. W̱IĆḴINEM (hw-eech-keen-umm) says his elders would harvest ferns on these islands, which were said to grow to heights taller than the height of an adult person.

When you look at historical maps, you’ll see evidence of meadows, particularly in the area of what is now an airstrip. These meadowlands were places for W̱SÁNEĆ families to grow ḰȽO,EL (kw-lhaw-ull) , or camas. Camas was a staple food in the W̱SÁNEĆ diet. Many animals, such as deer, also enjoy the meadowlands to forage for food, and this was a prime opportunity for W̱SÁNEĆ hunters to harvest deer to feed their families. The wetlands would have drawn other hunters in the form of birds of prey like the hawks and would be great habitat for amphibians.

The W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples’ experience of SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island) would have been much more abundant in biodiversity of plants, amphibians, birds, and insects. It wasn’t long ago that a person could lay in the fields among the hum of bees pollinating the meadow. Perhaps today you can still hear the frogs croaking during the WEXES (wuh-huss) moon (the second moon of the W̱SÁNEĆ new year). This moon tells us spring has arrived, and the flowers will be blooming, and that our canoe travels will be safer now that the fall and winter storms are over. These ṮEṮÁĆES (tluh-tlay-chuss) (islands) are relatives of the deep, placed in the sea by our creator XÁLS (hails) to protect the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples. XÁLS bestowed upon the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples the responsibility to care for these relatives as well. Living on the islands, harvesting seafoods, meat, plants, and medicines, tending to the meadows with controlled burns, selectively harvesting logs for cedar longhouses and cedar canoes, and stripping cedar bark for baskets and clothing were all integral to the well-being of the W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples and every area of the territory.  

What’s the issue?

European fallow deer were introduced to the Southern Gulf Islands in the early-to-mid-1900s, and populations have since grown consistently. Having stripped the forest understory of native tree seedlings and shrubs, the deer are the primary threat to the Coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem on SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island). This extensive browsing has created ideal conditions for invasive grasses and shrubs like English hawthorn to take over. The result is an ecosystem that is missing many native and culturally significant understory plants, is lacking in habitat for songbirds and other wildlife, and is less resilient to the impacts of climate change

What’s our approach?

Since 2018, Parks Canada has been working with partners—including the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council  (representing Tsartlip (tsart-lip) First Nation  and Tseycum (say-come) First Nation ), Tsawout (tsay-out) First NationPauquachin (paw-kwuh-chin) First Nation , Sidney Island residents, Islands Trust Conservancy , and the Province of British Columbia—to plan and implement a forest restoration strategy on SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island). This initiative is known as the Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project, or SḰŦÁMEN QENÁȽ,ENEȻ SĆȺ. Together, project partners identified three key objectives:

  1. Restoring native vegetation and removing invasive plant species. 
  2. Eliminating the invasive European fallow deer population. 
  3. Sustainably managing native black-tailed deer.

Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project Timeline  

  • 2018: Parks Canada began meeting with potential partners to brainstorm restoration and stewardship strategies for SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island). 
  • 2019: Representatives from each of the partner groups formed a Steering Committee and working groups.
  • April 2020: A shared vision for restoration was developed. Parks Canada, the Province of BC, Islands Trust Conservancy, and the Sidney Island residents sign a Memorandum of Understanding outlining their shared intentions to work towards improving forest health. The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council and Pauquachin First Nation provided letters of support.
  • Spring-Summer 2020: Parks Canada and partners successfully trialed methods to control invasive English hawthorn. 
  • Spring 2021: Working groups produced a comprehensive ecological restoration proposal. .Partners shared information with the media about the proposal and solicited public feedback through the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry.
  • Fall 2021: Vegetation restoration began. Parks Canada and Sidney Island residents built 10 fenced exclosures across the island and planted native shrubs and trees in them.
  • Winter 2021-22: Parks Canada and partners successfully trialed various tools and approaches (e.g., fencing, deterrents, etc.) to help determine which would be most effective in supporting eradication efforts.
  • Spring 2022: Parks Canada tendered a contract for eradication logistical planning and potential implementation.
  • Winter 2022-23: All project partners approved the implementation of the restoration proposal, including eradication of invasive fallow deer, vegetation restoration, and black-tailed deer management.
  • Winter-Spring 2023: The first round of English hawthorn and Scotch broom treatment and removal occurred across the island. 
  • Summer 2023: Parks Canada solicited public feedback on the Detailed Impact Assessment. Partners shared information with the media about the project. 
  • Fall 2023: Finalized the Detailed Impact Assessment, including a “What We Heard” report summarizing feedback.
  • Fall 2023: Finalized and shared Phase 1 safety information with Sidney Island residents through texts, emails, a dedicated website, and two virtual information sessions that were recorded for those who could not attend. A community-based Project Liaison was also available to connect directly with residents in the weeks leading up to and during Phase 1.  
  • December 1-11, 2023: Completed Phase 1 of the operation.
  • Spring-Summer 2024: Refine safety and operational plan specific to Phase 2 activities. 
  • Spring-Fall 2024: Continue native plant and shrub restoration and the removal of invasive vegetation.
  • Fall 2024-Spring 2025: Implement Phase 2 of the deer eradication.
  • Spring 2025-Spring 2028: Continue native plant restoration and removal of invasive vegetation.

Frequently Asked Questions

For more information, to share a concern, or to request a copy of the Detailed Impact Assessment or the “What We Heard” report, contact Stephanie Coulson, Partnering and Engagement Officer, at Stephanie.Coulson@pc.gc.ca. Questions can be directed to Gulf Islands National Park Reserve at gulfinfo@pc.gc.ca, 250-654-4000, or toll free at 1-866-944-1744.

Why are Parks Canada and project partners restoring the forest on SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island)?
Found only along the southern coast of British Columbia and parts of Washington and Oregon, the Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is one of the most ecologically diverse and imperilled zones in Canada. Invasive fallow deer have severely impacted the ecosystem on Sidney Island. Decades of population reduction through hunting and culling has not resulted in long-term improvement, resulting in the Sidney Island Ecological Restoration Project being formed.
Who are the project partners?
The project has been collaboratively built from the ground up, with project partners co-developing the project’s vision and goals and co-designing restoration actions. Project partners include Parks Canada, W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, Tsawout First Nation, Pauquachin First Nation, the Sidney Island community, the Province of BC, and Islands Trust Conservancy. Additional participation and support have been provided by Cowichan Tribes and Penelakut Tribe.
Why are fallow deer considered a problem?
In the early 20th century, settlers brought fallow deer—a species not native to North America—from England to the Southern Gulf Islands for farming and sport hunting. The population grew rapidly, and ecological issues resulting from abundance and extensive browsing were soon apparent.
Fallow deer live in larger groups and eat a broader variety of food than native black-tailed deer. Since their introduction to Sidney Island, fallow deer have eaten much of the forest’s native understory, including important food and medicine plants that First Nations Peoples have harvested there for generations. Scarcely any tree seedlings survive longer than a few years before being eaten, resulting in a forest of mature trees, with few young trees to take their place. In the absence of native trees and shrubs, invasive species like English hawthorn, Scotch broom, and non-native grasses have spread.
What is the difference between a cull and an eradication?
A cull refers to removing many, but not all, individuals from a population. Eradication is the complete removal of a population. On Sidney Island, culling has taken place over the course of 17 hunting seasons since 1981. Despite removing almost 15,000 deer over four decades of hunting and culling, their population continually rebounds, providing only short-term population reduction.
Have other methods of population control been considered?
The Sidney Island community spent over 40 years conducting annual hunts and periodic culls. Despite these efforts, the fallow deer population repeatedly rebounded, and the forest continues to show signs of poor health. After careful consideration, project partners concluded that permanently removing fallow deer from Sidney Island, in combination with restoring native vegetation, removing invasive plants, and managing the native black-tailed deer, is necessary to achieve long-term forest restoration.
During the collaborative planning process, other options were evaluated based on efficacy (ability to achieve the objective of complete population removal), safety, animal welfare, cost, and expediency (reducing disruption to residents and visitors). These options included:
  • Capturing and relocating (this would move the problem elsewhere);
  • Surgical sterilization (this would require capturing and performing surgery on every male or female over a series of years, which poses significant feasibility challenges and would also be considered a population reduction tool); and,
  • Contraception (this would require capturing and applying contraceptives to most females multiple times over the course of their lifespan, which poses significant feasibility challenges. Like surgical sterilization, contraception is considered a population reduction tool. Ultimately, these options have a lower chance of success, and would not yield the rapid results needed to support the recovery and restoration of this ecosystem.
What occurred during Phase 1?

Phase 1 of the eradication of fallow deer took place over 10 days between December 1-11, 2023. During this phase, three highly trained, certified marksmen used globally supported methods to humanely reduce the deer population on Sidney Island. A total of 84 deer were removed during this period through a combination of nighttime ground-based hunting and daytime aerial work. The aerial work included one marksman operating out of a single helicopter deployed for a total of 15 hours over 5 days.

Throughout Phase 1, Parks Canada staff worked closely with First Nations harvesters to recover meat, hides, and other usable materials, for distribution within local W̱SÁNEĆ communities. Harvesters recovered 79 of 84 deer dispatched, for an estimated total of over 800 kg (1,800 lbs) of meat.

The majority of the animals were dispatched with a single shot. A second shot was taken on the remaining few to be certain of an immediate and humane death. Marksmen worked with Parks Canada staff and First Nations harvesters to ensure that the maximum amount of meat and materials were recovered.

The safety of residents and project personnel was also a priority, and several months of in-depth safety planning occurred in advance of Phase 1. Parks Canada safety officers and a community liaison were present for the duration of Phase 1 to oversee the safe implementation of project activities and to provide updates to members of the Sidney Island residential community. Safety messaging included an internal community webpage, regular text and email updates, signage, and routinely monitored barricades to prevent unintentional access to active operational zones.

In addition to reducing the deer population, the marksmen also undertook ground and aerial reconnaissance to gather information to plan for Phase 2. This allowed marksmen to familiarize themselves with the terrain and environmental features of the project site, as well as deer behaviour and movement patterns.

What will happen during Phase 2?

The progress made in Phase 1 was a combination of efforts from all parties and relies on the investment and shared commitment of everyone involved to complete the work and achieve project goals.

Phase 2 of the operation is planned to take place between fall 2024 and spring 2025. During this phase, temporary fencing will be placed across Sidney Island, creating large, enclosed zones ranging in size from approximately 40 to 120 hectares. Each zone will be cleared by professional ground-based marksmen working with highly specialized scent-tracking dogs. These dogs do not physically engage the deer and are controlled by their handlers.

How is eradication being conducted humanely?
The humane treatment of animals is a priority for Parks Canada and project partners. Partners recognize that eradication of a wildlife population is reserved for situations where no other method is feasible, and only after careful consideration, as has been the case for this project.
Methods selected for this project are globally proven and align with internationally recognized principles for ethical wildlife control. Parks Canada is adhering to animal handling standards set out by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. In addition, project partners consulted with the BC SPCA throughout project planning and met with the SPCA’s Manager of Wild Animal Welfare to discuss the details of the operation, continuing to share operational details with them for additional review. Representatives from the BC SPCA will be on the island during Phase 1 and 2 to observe activities from an animal welfare perspective.
Parks Canada is a recognized leader in conservation and has a proven record of effective ecosystem management. For more information about the Principles of Ethical Wildlife Control that project partners used during project planning, click here
What is the role of the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA)?
The BC SPCA is not a project partner but was consulted on the project's methodology, provided feedback on the project’s operational plan, and has been on site to attend several days of the operation as an observer and if necessary, provide further recommendations. Please visit the BC SPCA website for more information on their position on this issue.
What is happening with the meat?
Parks Canada is working with local First Nations to implement a meat recovery program for both phases of the operation. First Nations harvesters, with support from Parks Canada staff, are recovering meat, hides, and other materials, which will be distributed within local First Nations communities. An estimated total of over 800 kg (1,800 lbs) of meat was recovered during Phase 1.
How is information being shared with Sidney Island residents?

Parks Canada staff worked collaboratively with Sidney Island community representatives to establish comprehensive safety measures and communications protocols. The Sidney Island community hired a community liaison who is involved in safety planning and is available to the community to answer safety-related questions. Parks Canada also has a project safety officer who is available to answer residents’ questions.

In the lead up to Phase 1, Parks Canada shared safety information broadly in a variety of formats to maximize reach including through online platforms, notices at community nodes. Information was also shared by the Sallas Strata through their project webpage. The community liaison, who was on-site for the duration of Phase 1, also connected directly with residents in person.

Parks Canada will continue to work and communicate with representatives of the community as we plan and prepare for Phase 2.

How does Parks Canada know fallow deer will not return to Sidney Island?
Based on global research and local genetic evidence, the risk of reinvasion of fallow deer on Sidney Island is considered low.
A genetic study completed in 2022 shows that introduced fallow deer populations on James Island, Sidney Island and Mayne Island have remained genetically isolated, which means that the animals have not been swimming between islands and breeding. Additionally, fallow deer have been established on Mayne Island since the 1990s but have not established a herd on Saturna Island despite the two islands nearly touching. This evidence suggests that fallow deer do not readily swim between islands to establish breeding populations.
As an added measure and in the event fallow deer are detected following the eradication, a biosecurity plan is being developed.
How are native black-tailed deer being managed?
Native black-tailed deer can be a component of a healthy Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem. They currently make up a very small percentage of the deer on Sidney Island, likely because they are outcompeted by fallow deer. After consulting with the BC SPCA, project partners concluded that there was no humane way to retain black-tailed deer on the island during the eradication; therefore, all deer will be removed. However, black-tailed deer are very abundant in this region and, unlike fallow deer, have a long history of swimming between islands. Partners anticipate that this native species will naturally return to Sidney Island in time. Parks Canada will monitor Sidney Island for signs of returning black-tailed deer , and in the future, may choose to work with partners to assist re-establishment.
When will plant restoration work take place?
A parks Canada staff member examines seeds and berries with a magnifying glass.
Parks Canada staff dissecting seeds collected in the national park reserve. Seeds like these will be used to restore native plants.

To support the restoration of a healthy and diverse understory, Parks Canada is planting a variety of native plants in fenced exclosures on the island. So far, ten exclosures have been built across SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island) and planted with over 300 native and culturally important plants. Two more exclosures are currently being built. These exclosure sites will function as a seed source for the surrounding areas and will help native plants re-establish throughout the forest. They will also provide pockets of habitat for forest wildlife such as songbirds.

Additionally, Parks Canada is collaborating with partners under the federal 2 Billion Trees program to plant at least 3,000 trees and companion shrubs in the Southern Gulf Island region by 2028. On SḰŦÁMEN (Sidney Island), planting efforts will help revitalize rare or missing deciduous trees, as well as food-producing species. In the park reserve, many of these trees will be planted in areas where English hawthorn is removed, particularly in and around the campground.

Date modified :