A mink farm may be developed on a rural property 13 kilometers north of Sparwood. Mark Bernemann was issued a license for more than 26 mink for $24 by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) in 2012. Licenses do not restrict the number of animals a farm can have.
Some people are questioning the mink farm. Nordstrom Creek runs through the Bernemann property. With five water licenses downstream, three for irrigation and two domestic, the question of water quality has come up.
The Ministry of Environment (MOE) will be involved if there is a problem but Director Area A Mike Sosnowski is concerned that by then it will already be too late. Sosnowski was referring to issues Nova Scotia is having with the mink farming industry which is now that province’s largest agricultural industry. Many people are blaming mink farms for the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms on lakes in Yarmouth County.
“Mink farms are the most likely source of water quality problems in nine lakes in western Nova Scotia, according to an Acadia University report released by the province’s Environment Department,” reported CBC news in April 2012.
“We’re not talking about a mink farm of that scale,” said mink farm license holder Mark Bernemann. “Those farms in Nova Scotia have a million mink.”
Bernemann would not comment on the number of mink that would be on his farm.
“It’s unfortunate that people think it’s the same thing. Fur farming is a little bit different (than what people are used to here.) People are scared of it. I’ve been involved in the business for 30 years, as I’ve been raised with it. I haven’t heard any complaints from my neighbours. There are government rules and regulations and I’ve gone to great lengths to follow them.”
According to the B.C. MOA, the Fur Farm Act and regulations require all licensees to install and maintain secure caging and fencing. The fencing requirements are designed to ensure the farmed mink do not escape.
Some people living on neighbouring properties are concerned and have questions regarding the farm. Blair Chatterson lives on an 80-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Bernemann property.
“We’re finding out what we can about mink farming,” said Chatterson. “Is there going to be a strong smell so I won’t be able to enjoy being outside on my property? From what I understand about mink farms isthere can be a smell. ”
Diane Plessis is another concerned property owner in the area.
“Where we live, it is a travel passage for grizzlies in the spring but it’s not a problem because they don’t stay,” said Plessis. “But if there is a reason for them to stay, they could become a problem. I have kids.
“I don’t want to live next door to a fur and pelt industry,” said Plessis. “Personally, I don’t like the thought of animals being skinned.”
According to the MOA, there have been two odour related complaints in B.C. since 2011. Both were to do with animal waste, and were easily remediated through the owner applying sawdust and gravel. The ministry has not received any complaints in which mink farms have attracted predators such as bears, wolves or coyotes. There are 13 active mink farms in B.C., all in the Fraser Valley.
Across Highway 43 is the Nature Trust of B.C.’s reserve for elk habitat that ensures elk have a place to spend the winter. Other predators like wolves and coyotes may be an issue for elk that use the reserve for winter foraging and calving in the spring.
“I have a real concern about the negative impact on the whole environment because of this farm,” said Mike Sosnowski, RDEK Area A director. “We were zoned for it (fur farming) and we didn’t know about it. Who thinks about fur farms?”
“The zoning was in place from the 1970’s. With a letter confirming proper zoning, the landowner was able to apply for a fur farm license. I am bringing the issue of fur farming to the next RDEK board meeting in November to explain and alert other rural directors in the area to look into their zoning bylaws to see if it allows fur farms. I will suggest they restrict their zoning and us as well. Restricting zoning allows there to be public consultation.”
The MOA did confirm that each application must submit a letter of permission from their local government to operate a fur farm on their premises as a condition of their license being approved.
MLA Bill Bennett has spoken with the B.C. Ministry of Environment in Victoria to learn about the regulations for the industry including its effects on water quality and predators.
“I am concerned and I’m speaking with the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Operations and the MOA in Victoria,” said Bennett. “It’s my job to find out what to do. Job number one is to see if base line water samples can be taken. I have to believe there must be some provincial regulations.”
According to the Fur Council of Canada 65,000 Canadians work in the fur trade, contributing $800 million to the Canadian economy, including more than $300 million in exports.