TOL. The right for farmers to use audible bird scare devices such as propane cannons is protected by the Provincial Government under the Ministry of Agriculture’s Right to Farm Act.
And while Township of Langley Council doesn’t have the authority to ban the noisy bird deterrents outright, it has made a number of bylaw changes that have resulted in a much quieter blueberry season this year.
In the summer of 2013, 16 noise complaints were received by the Township’s Bylaw Enforcement Department, regarding the firing of the cannons.
This season, only four noise complaints were received, said Township Manager of Bylaw Enforcement Bill Storie.
A total of 12 propane cannon complaints were recorded in the summer of 2014, but eight were about the lack of documentation displayed to prove that farmers had permits for their cannons.
“We saw a huge reduction in the number of noise complaints regarding blueberry propane cannons this summer,” said Storie. “The new regulations enforced by the Township have clearly made a difference.”
The use of audible devices such as propane cannons to scare away birds that are feeding on crops has been an ongoing issue for those living in agricultural areas. Some residents say the noise is intrusive and negatively impacts their quality of life, but some farmers rely on the technique as a way to deter animals that destroy their berry crops.
Past efforts by municipalities to restrict the use of propane cannons have been rejected by the Ministry of Agriculture, as local regulations cannot be more restrictive than Provincial guidelines. Earlier this summer, Abbotsford’s attempt to pass a bylaw limiting the use of the cannons was turned down by the Province.
However, municipalities can create a “farm bylaw” to control the use of the devices.
Knowing an outright ban would be rejected by the Ministry, Township Council referred the issue to its Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC), which set up a Propane Cannon Task Force in September of 2012 to help find a solution.
Members of the community were asked to provide input, and 12 meetings that were open to the public were held. A Town Hall Meeting was also held in January, 2013 as part of a stakeholder consultation program, and 61 written and verbal submissions were received.
A number of recommendations were then put forward to Council by the AAC, and an Audible Bird Scare Devices Farm Bylaw was adopted in the spring of 2013.
Designed to ensure farmers use propane cannons in a socially responsible manner, the bylaw introduced a Township-managed registration and licensing system for those using the devices. Farmers are now required to display their licenses to the public, making it easier to enforce the Audible Bird Scare Devices bylaw.
The new bylaw limits the hours when the cannons can be used, the number of devices allowed to operate at one time, and the number of shots that can be fired. It also requires devices to be kept a minimum distance away from homes, horse trails, and horse farms, and requires that nearby horse farm owners be notified in advance before the first shot of the season is fired.
These additions to the Ministry’s guidelines were approved by the Minister of Agriculture, and the results were tested for the first time last summer.
In 2014, twelve farms registered their propane cannons with the Township, and a noticeable drop in noise complaints was reported.
“Living in a rural community can poses challenges as we try to balance the needs of farmers making a living while protecting the quality of life for residents who live in agricultural areas,” said Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese. “We are really pleased to see this decline in noise complaints; it shows that the enhancements made through the bylaw are having a noticeable effect.”
“Township Council truly appreciates the efforts of the AAC, the Task Force, and the members of the public who provided input and helped come up with these revisions,” Froese said. “That work has paid off in the positive results we experienced this summer.”