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Happy, illegal hens.

In an earlier post, I laid out my best understanding of Powell River’s somewhat complicated Animal Control Bylaw 1979, 2003. After some months of work behind the scenes, the City’s proposed amendments to this bylaw will be presented for a first reading this Thursday at the meeting of the Committee of the Whole. These amendments come in the wake of the successful ‘Hens in the Hood’ youth employment project back in late 2010, which constructed a number of test sites within city limits and monitored them for problems with odour, pests, noise, and predators. At the same time, the youth in the project conducted a survey among Powell River residents which indicated strong support for increased freedom to raise hens in the city:

  • food sustainability was important to 98.8% of respondents;
  • 98.4% believed that it is important for City Hall to support local food practices; and
  • 96.7% believed that people should be able to raise hens within the municipality.

In the context of the City’s own Sustainability Charter and ever-increasing public awareness of the need to promote local production of and access to healthy food, it’s a bit disappointing to see that the amendments as proposed actually appear to go backwards.

In order to best understand the situation, it might be good to review the earlier post, and especially to pay attention to the zoning map: specifically zone RA1 (which is restricted to parts of Wildwood) and zones R1 and R2 (scattered throughout Cranberry and Westview). It appears that the bylaw amendments will not affect agricultural zones A1 and A2

As I understand them, here are some of the main changes that this bylaw amendment would introduce if passed by Council as is:

  1. The current bylaw excludes animals other than dogs or cats from all zones except RA1, A1, and A2. The amendments would permit up to four hens on parcels of land zoned R1 or R2, provided that the lot area is 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) or more.
    RESULT: City staff, in their report to Council, admit that “By limiting hens to half acre lots, very few R1 or R2 properties in the City would even qualify as candidate sites.” None of the test sites from the Hens in the Hood project would qualify under this new regime.
  2. The current bylaw refers to “poultry” when setting out limits on numbers of animals that may be kept on parcels of land zoned RA1, A1, or A2. The amendments continue to permit “hens  and  other  poultry” for zones A1 and A2, but hens only in zone RA1. In the City’s staff report it is noted that “The keeping of other poultry such as water fowl and turkeys is not recommended as these birds require different shelter, water, and care arrangements as well as additional space.”
    RESULT: Anyone currently raising ducks, turkeys, or other fowl on a parcel of land zoned RA1 will be in violation of the new bylaw.
  3. The current bylaw permits up to 12 poultry, none of which may be a rooster, or 20 rabbits on a parcel of land zoned Ra1, A1, or A2 having an area of 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) or less; and up to 24 poultry, one of which may be a rooster, or 50 rabbits on a parcel of land zoned RA1, A1, or A2 having an area greater than 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres). The amendments allow a maximum of 10 rabbits in an area zoned RA1 provided that the lot area is 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) or more. From the staff report: “Staff do not recommend expanding the keeping of rabbits as these animals multiply at exponential rates
    if released or escaped from pens.”
    RESULT: No change with respect to raising hens in zones RA1, A1, or A2. But the number of legally permissible rabbits is significantly reduced.
  4. The amendments state that “All owners of lands accommodating hens must be registered as regards this activity with the City in the form and manner prescribed by the Animal Control Officer.”

The upshot is that things remain pretty much unchanged for agricultural parcels zoned A1 or A2; it will become much more restricted in zone RA1; and there will be relatively no change in any other area of Powell River.

What has happened is that the City has had input from a number of organizations and individuals who see only the potential downside of making it easier to raise hens and other small animals in the City: the Conservation Officer, Bylaw Enforcement, the Human Society, and the local SPCA office. The City has not had any organized pressure from groups or individuals interested in making it easier to raise small livestock. There are serious challenges involved, especially the threat from predators, and some kind of city-wide plan will be required in order to address these challenges. Advocating for a more liberal bylaw regime, and helping the City deal with the potential negative consequences, is something that an existing organization might take on; for example, the Powell River Farmers’ Institute. Or citizens who are genuinely concerned could form an organization to carry out this advocacy work.