The city has taken “the only course of action we have left” to deal with the conflict created by propane cannons, with a bylaw that will allow enforcement of the Ministry of Agriculture guidelines for bird scare devices, said Mayor Henry Braun.
Braun told The News that council’s approval of the bylaw on Monday – which now requires endorsement from the Ministry of Agriculture – will not please everyone, but is a first step to addressing the problem.
The use of cannons is protected by the provincial Right to Farm Act. The devices, which emit multiple loud blasts, are used by farmers to protect their crops from birds, but many neighbours object to the noise.
Last year, the previous council approved a bylaw with stricter regulations than the current version, but it was denied by the ministry, which said the bylaw would effectively ban cannons on half the farms in Abbotsford. While Braun said he recognizes some residents are unhappy the city didn’t push that approach, he said the previous attempt for harsh restrictions didn’t work and “we lost a whole year.”
“I understand the plight of those who have cannons right next to their houses and I think with the bylaw we will see the complaints go down. That’s what happened to the Township (of Langley).”
The new bylaw, like the ministry guidelines, allows the devices to operate from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. – or from sunrise to sunset, whichever is less – and for single-shot cannons to go off once per five minutes and multiple-shot devices to shoot 11 times per hour with a break between noon and 3 p.m.
Abbotsford’s proposed bylaw would only allow the devices to be used when registered annually with the city and to have signage with the registration number of the site and a phone number for those who would like to report a violation. Farmers would also have to have a bird predation management plan that includes information about the farm, what bird control techniques they are using, and records of bird presence and propane cannon use, which must be submitted to the city on request.
Currently, when residents want to complain about cannon use, they are directed to the B.C. Blueberry Council, which employs liaison workers to try to address the issue – but a fine cannot be levied.
Other communities, such as Langley and Delta, have ministry-approved bylaws close to existing guidelines and which implement fines.
City clerk Bill Flitton said the bylaw gives the city a tool to encourage farmers operating outside the bylaws to gain compliance, and to fine those that don’t follow the rules.
Coun. Moe Gill objected, saying it puts extra work on blueberry growers. He had previously opposed a proposed $125 registration fee, which was removed from the new bylaw.
Coun. Patricia Ross asked why this new version of the bylaw removed the proposed registration fee of $125 per site, adding that Langley has a fee.
Flitton explained that he spoke with the manager of bylaw services in Langley and their fee can be considered a disincentive if the farmer doesn’t want to pay. He said if there is no fee it may encourage farmers to work with the city.
The bylaw also implements fines for misuse, starting at $200 for a first offence, $300 for a second, and rising to $500 for third and subsequent offences.
Council approved the bylaw with Couns. Gill and Les Barkman opposed.
Braun told The News the bylaw “gets us to first base.” The Ministry of Agriculture has said it is open to considering modification of the provincial guidelines if the city has supporting data. Though Braun said a ban in the near future seems unlikely, he said residents who want the cannons gone need to address the issue with their MLAs.
He added that the problem also comes down to the issue of starlings, the main predator on blueberry crops, and the city is studying that.
Council had previously looked to the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) about the possibility of creating a regional program to manage starlings. The FVRD rejected the plan, citing concerns of costs, effectiveness, and pointing out that other jurisdictions have less of a starling problem than Abbotsford.
A city report on the potential for a starling trapping program will come before council in the future for consideration.