Abbotsford resident Diane Danvers

Abbotsford resident Diane Danvers

Enforcement of Abbotsford propane cannon restrictions to begin

Critics say new measures will make little difference

The propane cannons began firing early this year, Abbotsford resident Diane Danvers says.

Last year, the noise started on June 13. This year it began on June 9, and it will only get worse as more of the 12 blueberry farms near her house fire up their bird scare devices.

“It’s been 10 years of this,” Danvers says.

She is one of several residents who have been lobbying for years to ban the noisemakers that aim to scare off berry-eating birds with 125-decibel blasts.

This year, the City of Abbotsford will begin the second phase of new propane cannon regulations that limit when, where and how often the devices can be used and set out a schedule of fines for people who break the rules.

The first phase last year saw the rules approved but not enforced. It was all about education and letting farmers know about the new rules.

By a 6-2 vote on Monday, council gave preliminary approval to the second phase. The regulations will come back for final approval and adoption at an upcoming council meeting.

Cherry Groves, another resident who lives near blueberry farms, is not optimistic the new bylaw will make much difference.

“I know exactly what will happen,” Groves says.

“Nothing. It’s not getting rid of the noise.”

Gary Suddard noticed a modest improvement in his Abbotsford neighbourhood during the education phase last year.

“It (the noise) wasn’t nearly as bad,” he says.

Suddard, like Groves and Anders, still wants a ban.

That is unlikely to happen because the provincial government has the final word on farming regulations, and has not been inclined to forbid audible bird scare devices.

Typical propane cannon

Typical propane cannon. FILE

A June 2014 letter to Abbotsford council from agriculture minister Norm Letnick said local governments like Abbotsford shouldn’t pursue a ban on propane cannons “until they have exhausted all other available means for managing propane cannon conflicts.”

Letnick had vetoed a proposed Abbotsford propane cannon bylaw for being too restrictive.

The Abbotsford bylaw the minister eventually approved is modeled on the Township of Langley regulations, which follow agriculture ministry guidelines.

The bylaw allows bird scare devices to operate from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m or sunrise to sunset – whichever is less.

Single-shot cannons can fire once every five minutes and multiple-shot devices can shoot 11 times per hour for a maximum of 33 shots, with a break between noon and 3 p.m.

Fines start at $200 for a first offence, $300 for a second, and rise to $500 for third and subsequent offences.

At the Monday council meeting, a $300 fine was added for failing to update bird management records.

The BC Blueberry Council, the umbrella organization that represents 800 growers, has been told the city expects growers to keep track of “bird pressure” on their crops to justify their use of audible devices, bylaw services manager Magda Laljee said in a written report.

According to provincial guidelines, a bird predation management plan requires farmers to rate the severity of berry losses as low, medium, or high pressure, based on their observations.

There is no deadline to register bird management plans, but one must be in place before propane cannons and other bird scare devices are deployed.

Last year (2015) the total number of properties registered was 122.

According to the city, so far this year, 84 properties have registered bird management plans.