Saanich hits bulleye with new bylaw to control goose population

Coun. Fred Haynes says revisions of Saanich’s firearms bylaw will help protect local food crops.

Bylaw revisions awaiting final approval will align the local use of firearms or crossbows on Saanich farms with existing laws as forecasts warn of a spike in resident Canada geese damaging local crops.

Council Monday gave three readings to revisions of the local bylaw that regulates the discharge of firearms and bows. The revisions (once they have received final approval) afford farmers outside the Urban Containment Area additional opportunities to protect their crops against geese and other animals, subject to the appropriate permits from senior government.

Ken Watson, director of legislative services, told council that the previous bylaw did not allow farmers to use firearms to protect their crops, while the Right to Farm Act suspends the operation of municipal firearm bylaws for farmers who engage in normal farm practices such as shooting animals damaging their crops. “New bylaw provisions were needed to effectively confirm the rights granted under the Right to Farm Act and make the bylaw consistent with that [act],” he said.

Coun. Fred Haynes said the revisions responded to requests from the farming community concerned about crop production as Saanich tries to meet its 2020 goal of sourcing 20 per cent of food supplies locally.

“The cost of the deprivations of geese and other animals on our crops is unsustainable,” said Haynes.

Council first considered this issue in February 2016, when Haynes presented a memo that drew attention to the damage that resident Canada geese have done to local crops “essential to both our local food production, and the economic viability of our local farmers.”

Estimates peg the number of resident Canada geese in the Capital Regional District at 6,000, said Haynes, citing a report from Mike Hicks, regional director of the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area. Forecasts call for 60,000 birds within 20 years. “The 6,000 present today already cause considerable harm to our farmers and 60,000 will be devastating.”

Coun. Judy Brownoff agreed with the general thrust of the revisions. “Updating our bylaw is very important for Saanich because we have an urban and rural mix of properties,” she said.

Other revisions to the bylaw strike crossbows from the archery provision, raise the contravention penalty to $500 from $100, and add a general prohibition on the discharging of firearms or crossbows in the Urban Containment Area. This prohibition also applies to areas outside the Urban Containment Area, unless permitted under the stated, now expanded, list of exceptions.

The bylaw does not affect provisions concerning the use of firearms as passed by the federal government.

Monday’s discussion heard some concerns from Teale Phelps Bondaroff, who wondered whether the revisions would interfere with arrow tag, a sport that sees players shoot at each other using foam-tipped arrows.

The previous bylaw appeared to allow this form of recreation, he said. “The new [bylaw] seems to read such, that shooting anything not a stationary target is problematic,” he said.

Watson told council that he had never heard of this sport. “It is not contemplated in the bylaw,” he said. “Archery is defined as a sport of shooting at targets with bows and arrows. That is what is permitted. I think it will leave it at that.”

While Mayor Richard Atwell suggests that council may wish to do additional research, Haynes disagreed as additional research could lead to delays. Saanich can deal with this issue down the line, he said. “I’m all for that,” he said. “But I am sensitive to the needs of our agricultural community.”

Coun. Susan Brice echoed this point, noting that the archers can talk with staff before final passage of the bylaw.

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