Nelson City Council turned down a request from a resident for an exemption to its no chickens rule at its June 15 meeting.
In a letter to council, Rosemont resident Stephanie Gibson asked to be allowed to keep her four hens and two ducks, which had been reported to bylaw officers by another resident in May.
Nelson’s Animal Regulation and Control Bylaw prohibits keeping any animals other than dogs and cats in the city.
Gibson’s letter outlined her extensive measures to keep the poultry safe and clean, and the popularity of the hens and ducks with her child and with her neighbours.
“Our hens and ducks have become part of our family over the past year,” she wrote.
Council declined her request based on information presented by the BC Conservation Officer Service, WildSafeBC, and from the city’s bylaw officers, all of whom stated that backyard chickens and chicken feed are a significant bear and rat attractant.
Letters from these agencies and from Gibson can be found at https://bit.ly/3gw44GC.
A letter from conservation officer Jason Hawkes said that in the past two years in the West Kootenay, officers have responded to 96 conflicts between humans and bears that were caused by chickens and chicken feed. Of those incidents, 19 black bears and four grizzly bears were killed and two grizzly cubs were orphaned.
A WildSafeBC letter said safety from bears might be possible through high-quality electric fencing and secure food storage. Even though the agency took no position on the exemption, it cautioned that even a properly working electric fence and food storage is dependent on human maintenance and best practices, which are not always applied consistently.
The Nelson Bylaw Department expressed opposition, stating that bears are attracted to chickens from a greater distance than to household garbage but that once bears find the chickens they are then attracted to the garbage as well.
The opinions of these agencies convinced council.
“As everybody knows, I am a massive advocate for food security,” said Councillor Jesse Woodward. “But are backyard chickens worth dead bears, cougars or other wildlife?”
Councillor Janice Morrison said she was against the exemption because “we will see a flood of people coming to council and asking for an exemption.”
Councillor Keith Page said he favours granting the exemption for two years and setting up a safe way of keeping chickens by addressing a number of technical hurdles.
Councillor Rik Logtenberg partially agreed with Page, saying he would welcome a pilot project, started by community members, around any new food security initiatives including backyard chickens, with appropriate controls in place.
“Get organized, put a plan together and work with WildSafe to develop it before you come to the city … before I see that, I have to say that the risks are too high to the wildlife population and to propagating the rat problem.”
Councillor Cal Renwick read a letter from a resident whose neighbourhood managed to get rid of rats until a neighbour acquired chickens and the rats returned, attracted to the feed left out for the chickens.
Council voted unanimously to deny the exemption. Gibson will be required to get rid of her hens and ducks within 30 days.