I support the efforts of Nelson residents to raise their own food, however I also know from my 30-plus years professional experience as a biologist specializing in bears, that hens and bees can be powerful attractants to bears and other predators.
In principle, it is possible to raise hens and bees and have minimal conflict with bears and other predators. However, this requires a concerted effort on the part of individual residents and also strong guidance and direction from City staff.
I would be more optimistic about this possibility, but unfortunately to date, City staff and residents have not done a very good job of managing garbage, fruit trees, and other attractants.
A revised Waste Management Bylaw with wildlife attractant regulations has been in place since June 2011, but there has not been a concerted effort by City staff to make sure residents adhere to those regulations. If a better job is not done to regulate and manage all bear attractants, then hens and bees in the city will exacerbate an already very difficult situation. Multiple bears are killed every year and human property damaged in the city because of the inaction of individuals and the community at large.
Consequently, I would only support the keeping of hens and bees in the City of Nelson if there was a strong bylaw regulating their husbandry and effective enforcement of this bylaw to ensure residents were meeting or exceeding the regulations.
This bylaw should contain the following:
• Beehives and chicken coops must be protected by a properly constructed and maintained predator-exclusion electric fence. Despite some people’s fears, electric fences pose little danger to humans. What risk would you rather have, the small possibility that a child is mildly shocked by an electric fence or the larger possibility that they bump into a black bear or grizzly bear roaming the city destroying coops and beehives?
• Chickens should be housed in appropriate coops that meet City specifications and should not be roaming freely.
• Chickens should be put in a hard sided hut within the coop at night.
• Chicken feed should be stored in a bear-resistant container or facility and extra chicken feed should be cleaned up every day.
• Residents raising chickens or bees must be registered with the City and sign an agreement to maintain the chickens or bees according to the bylaw.