Select committee to examine blueberry cannon bylaw

City of Abbotsford votes to move forward with bylaw to govern use of audible bird scare devices.

Cherry Groves was among opponents to blueberry cannons who addressed council Monday night.

A bylaw governing the use of blueberry cannons is one step closer to reality.

On Monday night, Abbotsford council listened to 11 delegations, who spoke both for and against giving the city the power to enforce stricter regulations on the audible bird scare devices.

Coun. John Smith raised the issue last month and has been pushing for a bylaw that would allow the city to create different regulations than those of the ministry of agriculture.

A select committee will now be formed to develop the bylaw, including Mayor Bruce Banman, two city councillors and four citizens.

“Those seven individuals will consult with the industry, the blueberry council, the farmers, the complainants, the ministry of agriculture and they will come up with recommendations,” said Smith.

He expects the committee to present a report before council by December.

Smith would like to see the starting time for cannons moved from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., and the evening deadline moved from 8 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Existing provincial guidelines call for the devices to be shut off between noon and 3 p.m. Smith would also like to see cannon setbacks extended from the current guideline of 200 meters to 300. And he is suggesting “tough” fines for non-compliance.

Even if a bylaw is created, the ministry of agriculture would have to approve it.

The blueberry cannon debate has been going on for years. Residents living close to farms using cannons or other devices have complained that the noise is destroying their peace.

Opponents feel the ministry regulations aren’t strong enough to stop some farmers from abusing the cannons.

“Does my neighbour have the right to wake up my entire family at 6:30 a.m. every morning, regardless if it be Saturday, Sunday or a holiday? They have that right,” said Gary Suddard.

He told council that it’s not just cannons. Orchard pistols release a 100-decibel shrieking sound, terrifying livestock, said Suddard.

Another device used to scare birds away from the berry crops are squawkers, which are speakers placed around a blueberry field that play recorded sounds of a “bird being tortured.” He said they are allowed to be played every one minute and six seconds.

He said the solution is simple – farmers should use nets.

Resident Cherry Groves agreed and also expressed her frustration to council. She prefers a complete ban on cannons, which she said is the ultimate goal. However, she said a stricter bylaw may be a first step.

“The noise has to stop.”

But local farmer Jasbir Banwait said cannons are a necessary tool to combat the birds that eat blueberry crops. He said netting is expensive and in many cases would not be practical.

“I know everyone here is aware of the positive economic effect the blueberry industry has on Abbotsford. Let’s not make it even harder and less likely for our blueberry farmers to be successful in our community,” said Banwait.

Debbie Etsell, executive director of the BC Blueberry Council said the problem isn’t stricter regulations, it’s enforcing the ones that currently exist.

She said the council’s mediator has had success solving many conflicts between farmers and neighbours, but the public doesn’t hear about “the growers that reduce their frequency” or the farmers that have removed devices.

“There are growers who do care about their neighbours, but they also care about their losses,” said Etsell.

So she supports the idea of a city bylaw, but one that uses existing guidelines.

“We would like to see a fine in place and that it be a fine that deters a grower from being non-compliant.”

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