Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Capital Regional District Compensation to Sheep Producer Not Right

     In February this year, a wolf dog running at-large on Salt Spring Island killed sixteen sheep over two nights on Ted Akerman’s farm. Ted spent a cold night in his truck watching his flock, and at daybreak sighted the wolf-dog and killed it with his shotgun. The dog had no identification, and no owner came forward. Ted filed for compensation with the CRD, and three months later the CRD Board voted to compensate Ted with $750 – less than $47 per sheep. To add insult to injury, Ted found this out by reading his local paper on the ferry. A few weeks later he received his cheque in the mail.
     The CRD bylaw states that the compensation shall be the “lesser of (a) 75% of the decrease in the market value of the animal as a result of its death or injury, or (b) $750 dollars”. The emphasis on “the” and “it” indicates the singular, that is, a single compensation for each animal. The ceiling is based on the fact that some producers may have sheep that are registered purebreds that may fetch a higher price as premium breeding stock. Some purebred registered sheep are worth thousands of dollars, thus the cap per animal of $750. As a benchmark, the federal government’s valuation maximum for sheep is $300 for unregistered sheep and $1,200 for purebred registered sheep. The current market value of lambs is about $200, so compensation by the bylaw formula should have been $2,400 – certainly not $750.
     As a representative of the BC Sheep Federation (BCSF), I faxed and emailed the CRD to inform them of their misinterpretation of the bylaw. I received an email reply from Ken Hancock, Southern Gulf Islands CRD Director, stated that “the interpretation (since the bylaw’s inception) is that the intent of the bylaw is to set a maximum of $750 per incident as opposed to a maximum of $750 per animal”. This was backed up in a letter by Dan Brown of CRD Bylaw Services, who added that local government does not have to compensate livestock owners, citing the provincial statute that says a local government “may” compensate.
     It is amazing to think that anyone would assume that the $750 limit is regardless of the number of animals killed or injured.   According to legal opinion obtained by the BCSF, the CRD is not correct in its interpretation that the total compensation limit is $750. There is also a precedent; in 2003, another Salt Spring sheep producer received $810 for 8 sheep killed by a dog. Garth Hendren, Salt Spring Island CRD Director, was sympathetic to the plight of the Akermans and agreed to have the CRD lawyer review the bylaw, hopefully resulting in a review of the Akerman’s case. Given that back in the 1970’s Salt Spring had over 200 sheep killed by dogs in a single year, the few livestock owners that apply for compensation now are a fraction of what the province used to compensate for.
.     In 1875 in BC, the Livestock Protection Act was passed to help prevent dogs from becoming a nuisance to livestock. The Act replaced the Sheep Protection Act and allowed for livestock owners to shoot dogs that were chasing or attacking their livestock, and to be compensated for losses due to dog attacks. All dogs were required to be licenced and the fees were placed into a consolidated fund to be used for compensation to livestock owners. People with dogs that were either shot or caught attacking livestock were required to pay compensation into the fund, which would go toward compensation of the livestock owner. The Act was repealed in 2003, as it was believed that it was redundant with many municipalities and regional districts that were already licencing dogs and should be responsible for the control of dogs in their jurisdiction, and also responsible for the compensation of livestock owners through the Local Government Act. The portion of the Act that allowed farmers to shoot the dogs attacking their stock was placed into the Livestock Act.
     This has not worked out very well for some livestock farmers and ranchers. Some jurisdictions do not licence dogs, compensate poorly or do not compensate at all. Bowen Island, the location of wolf-dog attacks that were in the news across Canada this year, is one such municipality. When the wolf-dog was finally shot, it did not have a licence since licences are not required there. Bowen Island also does not compensate livestock owners for dog attacks or kills, and does not allow the discharge of firearms.
     The CRD only receives one or two claims per year and budgets approximately $2,000 annually for compensation. In 2007 there were over 7,000 dogs in the CRD and over $128,000 in licence fees collected. In a 2008 staff report dog numbers had increased to almost 11,000 and there were three claims for compensation in four years for only $925 paid out in compensation to livestock owners. There are more dog attacks that occur, but if the dog has a licence the compensation comes directly from the dog owner.
Regional and local governments should understand that one of their roles is to control the dog population through licencing, and with that licence fee there should be fair compensation. The local government that does a good job of educating, licencing and controlling stray dogs will not have to pay out much in compensation. And they certainly should ensure that the compensation is fair to the livestock producer. When local governments talk about supporting local agriculture, they should understand that controlling stray dogs is one way they can help.
     The BCSF has initiated a scan of dog bylaws and a preliminary report will be presented at the AGM of the BCSF in Duncan on October 15th. All sheep producers are welcome to attend.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Pig War boundaries - from Wikepedia
It’s not that unusual for livestock to escape their enclosures whether it is for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, or for males to seek female company. But 150 years ago a roaming pig that broke into a garden nearly caused a war between nations, and gave the Gulf Islands a bit of colourful history.
In 1846 the Oregon Treaty divided the unclaimed land in this region between the United States and Britain. Everything below the 49th parallel was to be American, and everything above it British Canada. Vancouver Island, which dips below the 49th parallel, was kept intact and separate from the American mainland by the Treaty stating that the border would be along the middle of the channel. However, the wording created uncertainty because there are actually two channels – Haro and Rosario - separating Vancouver Island from the U.S., each running on either side of San Juan Island before merging into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As a result, both nations claimed San Juan Island.
In the early 1850’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company brought 1,369 sheep, seed for crops and farm animals including Berkshire pigs to establish a farm on San Juan Island. The sheep thrived there and their numbers swelled to over 4,000. The pigs also found plentiful food, occasionally in the gardens of the American settlers who also came to the island to establish farms. It wasn’t long before one particular British pig was shot and killed for rooting up and eating an American settler’s potatoes. The pig belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company, who called for the arrest of the American who killed the pig. The American settlers called for military protection by the US military, and the HBC called for the British to come and protect their interests. The American troops set up camp, and the governor of British Columbia, James Douglas, ordered three war ships to San Juan Island to scare them away with orders to not shoot unless shot at. Even though much smaller in numbers, the American force would not budge.
American President James Buchanan was shocked that an international crisis had erupted over a dead pig. He sent his Commanding General to negotiate, and both nations agreed to joint military occupation. Each established a small camp at either end of the island while the issue of sovereignty was determined. True to form, the British camp was lovely, complete with formal gardens and tea parties. During the next twelve years, the British and American military camps behaved in a very civilized manner, each visiting each other’s camps to celebrate their respective national holidays. They enjoyed various sports competitions. It has been said that the biggest threat to peace on the island during that time period was the large amounts of alcohol available.
The standoff was concluded twelve years later, when the issue was referred to and resolved by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. He formed a commission that decided in favour of the United States, and San Juan Island is now exclusively American.
The Pig War is commemorated in San Juan Island National Historical Park. Today the Union Jack still flies above the "British Camp", being raised and lowered daily by park rangers, making it one of the very few places without diplomatic status where US government employees regularly hoist the flag of another country. Each year the event is celebrated with re-enactments in full costume and picnics at the British Camp and American Camp site.
In recent years on Pender Island a “Pig War” was started when a previous local Trust committee was going to ban pigs from small acreages. The Farmer’s Institute and supporters fought back and won the right to have pigs. It is rumored – in true Gulf Island form – that the owner of the killed San Juan Island pig fled to Pender Island, and his descendants live there today. In any case, pig farming is viewed by many as either an enjoyable livestock enterprise or a messy, smelly form of farming better left in someone else’s back yard.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Local food needs local support

What can a local government do to really support local food and agriculture? Start with understanding the challenges that face farmers and the changing times we are living in. Examine policy changes from the farmer’s perspective, because unforeseen consequences can result that have a negative effect on farming. There needs to be more done than just write reports and give lip service to local food.
Case in point – urban agriculture. Many people understand the benefits of having food grown close by – fresher, less fuel to transport, less impact by global events that could affect distribution, support of local economy. Early community gardens were called Railway Gardens, started by the CPR. Victory Gardens sprung up in wartime to help feed people in the cities. Some people have quickly grasped the benefits of urban agriculture, taking unused lots or yards and transforming them into mini farms, to sell produce at farmers markets to people in the community. For the past thirty or so years these markets have been growing in size and number, and more of the food is coming from the cities themselves. Pretty neat, right?
Not if you live in the District of Lantzville on Vancouver Island. The residential zoning bylaw in Lantzville does not allow for commercial or agricultural activities, and this summer the District was threatening legal action against Dirk Becker since he had not applied for a temporary use permit. This generated a fair bit of controversy, and some stories of other jurisdictions with similar situations have come to light as a result of the press Dirk has received.   Dirk and his partner Nicole Shaw have taken a formerly bleak 2.5 acre lot and transformed it into a thriving garden. Unfortunately, not everyone that lives near Dirk appreciate his efforts.
What is particularly ironic is that the Regional District of Nanaimo, which includes the District of Lantzville, recently hosted the Canadian Institute of Planners AGM, which included a keynote speaker by an agrologist and supporter of urban agriculture, Wendy Holm. Wendy has taken farmers to Cuba for years to see how Cuba adopted organic urban agriculture out of necessity. She was sharing her views and experiences with planners from all over Canada, encouraging them to adopt farmer and home-grower friendly bylaws in their cities. Not only that, a team of Nanaimo planners hosted a tour of local farms in the Nanaimo area for the AGM.
As many people move towards resiliency, others like things to stay the way they are and are more concerned about maintaining property values based on appearances. The council of Lantzville isn't the only one faced with this dilemma. A similar situation has happened in the town of Oak Park, Michigan this summer. Oak Park threatened homeowner Julie Bass for planting raised gardens in her front yard. If convicted, she could have spent 93 days in jail but the city backed out when the case got widespread attention. This situation reminded me of my favourite British situation comedy from the 70's, the Good Life, which took a humorous look at a couple who decided to grow their own food on their suburban lot, except the Lantzville and Oak Park situations aren't funny for the property owners involved.
Values are shifting ever so slowly, and like many communities where people are on different parts of the spectrum, there can be conflicts. And there is a difference between urban agriculture, where unused lots or lawns are converted into gardens to grow food – and agricultural urbanism, a concept taken up by urban planners and developers to often justify the development of farmland by offering “urban farms” within a development. I am suspicious of the real motives of these projects, which seem to be just another version of developing farmland.
It is predicted that 65% of the global population will live in cities by 2050. The fresher the fruit or vegetable is, the more nutritious it is. Growing it yourself is the freshest and healthiest way to go. I have always felt that everyone should be able to grow their own food if they are able to. Bylaws should reflect that. Community gardens should be available for those who lack a yard to grow a garden, and ways to distribute fresh produce with others should be encouraged also.