The use of blueberry cannons  to scare away birds, has been the source of conflict between berry farmers and other Langley residents — particularly members of the equestrian community — for years. Documents released under FOI indicate farmers feel unfairly singled out by a Township bylaw.

The use of blueberry cannons to scare away birds, has been the source of conflict between berry farmers and other Langley residents — particularly members of the equestrian community — for years. Documents released under FOI indicate farmers feel unfairly singled out by a Township bylaw.

Blueberry industry balked at Langley bylaw

Government notes released under Freedom of Information rules indicate Langley could have instituted bird-trapping, but chose not to

Some blueberry farmers have told Langley Township a bylaw that aims to limit the use of propane cannons unfairly singled them out, according to a June 17 provincial government briefing note released under freedom of information (FOI) regulations.

The note also shows the Township of Langley could have instituted a bird trapping program to reduce the need for the controversial bird scare devices, but chose not to.

The three-page document was prepared by agricultural ministry staff for minister Pat Pimm, who approved the bylaw the day after the note was prepared.

The briefing note amounts to a brief executive summary of the process that produced the Langley bylaw which, among other things, requires blueberry farmers to get a $125-a-year licence to register their bird scare devices with the Township of Langley as well as post a notice before they use one.

The briefing note and a letter to the Township mayor from the agriculture minister were released online in response to a request from an unnamed individual for “all correspondence between Langley Township and the Minister’s Office and all correspondence between the Minister and his Staff regarding Langley’s approval [of the bylaw]” between May 1 and June 30.

The province routinely posts the results of FOI requests online at www.openinfo.gov.bc.ca.

The ministry edited out two sections of the briefing note, citing privacy regulations.

The briefing note says representatives of the blueberry industry supported “most elements” of the bylaw, but not those two requirements.

“They have expressed concern that the registration requirement singles out their industry with an additional burden not carried by other agricultural industries under the Farm Practices Protection Act,” the note says.

“They are also concerned with the precedent of being required to post a sign at their driveway when using propane cannons.”

According to the note, representatives of the horse industry, who have complained about the frightening effect the noisemakers have on local steeds, had little to say about the bylaw.

However, an unnamed “local Langley horse group were [sic] quite critical that there were insufficient restrictions on the use of propane cannons.”

The provincial agriculture ministry has been promoting “addressing starling population control” through trapping as a way of reducing the need for blueberry cannons by cutting the number of the berry-munching birds, the note observes.

It suggests Langley Township could have won approval for such a program, but chose not to apply, noting the bylaw, as submitted, “stopped short of implementing additional measures such as starling trapping.”

As well, it says the Township also had the option of adopting suggested provincial government guidelines for “edge planning,” which would require landscaping and, ideally, “spatial buffers” of 600 metres or more to separate farms from nearby residential developments.

The briefing note also says the Township had the option of adopting provincial guidelines for residential uses on farmland which would restrict the size and location of such housing.

The June 18 letter from Pimm to Township mayor Jack Froese simply confirms the minister’s approval of the bylaws, calling the use of propane cannons “a difficult issue to address” and praising the Langley regulations as “a positive step in striking a positive balance in recognizing the interests of farmers and other citizens living near and using the lands around existing farms in the Agricultural Land Reserve.”

Enforcement of the new regulations governing propane cannons in Langley Township began in July, following their final approval on June 24 by Langley Township council by a 7-1 vote.

Councillor Kim Richter cast the only vote against the bylaws.

Councillor Grant Ward, who did not attend the meeting, supported the measures in previous votes.

There is nothing in the new bylaws about banning the controversial cannons because the ministry, which has the final say on any farming regulations, made it clear that any attempt at imposing an outright ban would be overturned under right-to-farm laws.

The new Township bylaws restrict how often the cannons can be fired, allowing one firing every five minutes for a single cannon.

It also required a 100-metre setback from horse trails, something that already appears to exist, the note says.

“The Township reports that no current blueberry farms are impacted by the setback to horse trails.”

The bylaw sets escalating fines for violating the rules, $150 for a first offence, $350 for a second and $500 for a third and any subsequent offence.

The regulations were drafted by the Propane Cannon Task Force, which was created by the municipal Agricultural Advisory Committee.

During a public hearing in January, the task force heard from 25 speakers, all critical of blueberry cannons for disturbing residents and frightening horses.

Most demanded an outright ban.