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Fernie taking a better look at chickens

Increased food security and dangers of attracting bears are top of mind for the city
Chickens could be allowed in Fernie depending on how the council feels about it after summer 2022. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Backyard hens could on the menu for Fernie, with the municipality currently exploring options for changes to bylaws that would allow residents to keep chickens, but with stringent requirements to reduce conflict between residents and their neighbours – both human and ursine.

In a presentation to the committee of the whole on Apr. 19, city staff touched on benefits, issues and concerns about the potential of allowing hens in most of the city (currently they are allowed in parts of West Fernie).

Drawing on the experiences and bylaws of other municipalities that allow hens, city bylaw officer Tom Kramer said that benefits of amending the bylaw were increased food security thanks to their eggs, but predators were a major concern given Fernie’s location in a major wildlife corridor.

“The most glaring issue that we found was wildlife attractants – both the hens themselves and the feed for the hens,” he said. With bears, skunks, badgers and other predators in the area, Kramer said that any potential changes to the city’s bylaws would need to include specific requirements for electric fencing to reduce the appeal of chickens for the valley’s ursine residents.

In 2021, bear sightings were at a high in the Elk Valley, with hard consequences for the bear population – 31 were killed by Conservation Officers (an all-time high) in Sparwood and Fernie, and more killed by traffic.

Chickens and their feed are one of the prime attractants for bears, which wander into town searching for an easy food source. Other attractants are fruit trees and unsecured garbage.

READ MORE: A tough year for bears in the Elk Valley: Dozens euthanized, more killed in collisions

Other issues listed by Kramer in his presentation were noise issues (the noise bylaw is due for an update anyway), odour and disease – all matters that could be addressed through amendments to city bylaws to be explored.

The presentation used the example of the District of Sparwood’s recently-adopted chicken bylaw, which allows for up to five hens, bans roosters, has stringent requirements for fencing and security of feed, bakes in neighbourhood consent for chickens to be allowed, and requires hens only be kept for their eggs.

Under the Sparwood model, adopted back in November 2021, anyone applying for a backyard hen permit must have written support from all adjoining properties at the time of their application.

Kramer said that in order for the city to ensure hen enclosures were being maintained the bylaw office would have to take on quarterly inspections.

Questions from councillors were on the number of complaints about chickens in West Fernie (none, according to Kramer), the number of incidents of bears breaking into pens in Elkford and Sparwood (none), and cost implications.

Neither the Conservation Officer Service or WildsafeBC – two agencies which deal with wildlife enforcement and education respectively, submitted any arguments for or against allowing hens, but WildsafeBC encourages municipalities to enforce strict bylaws.

Councillors voted to direct staff to draft proposed amendments to the animal control bylaws that would allow hens but with strict requirements.

The proposed amendments will be brought back before the city council after summer, 2022.

Besides Sparwood, chickens are also allowed in the District of Elkford, and within the Regional District of East Kootenay.

READ MORE: Sparwood council approves backyard hens
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