Backyard chicken debate scratches on in Squamish 

Food security promoters want chickens, safety advocates don't

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For Carolyn Morris and other Squamish residents concerned about food security this isn't looking like the year of the chicken.

Morris, who manages the farmers market in Squamish, was pleased the members of Squamish Council support the idea of creating a community chicken coop. The members of Squamish council also seem to support beekeepers having colonies in residential back yards and this also pleased Morris.

Extensive discussion about urban agriculture took place at a Squamish Council Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting in July.

Morris heard some things at the meeting she didn't agree with but she's looking forward to moving ahead to create a community chicken coop based on the same premise of two community gardens. Much like the gardens at Highway 99 and Mamquam Road and at Cleveland Avenue and Victoria Street the chicken coop idea would see like-minded residents come together to raise the chickens and harvest the eggs produced in the secure coop.

"The door wasn't closed but it sure wasn't put wide open," said Morris following the meeting.

Planner Sabina Foofat and Chris Bishop, the District of Squamish (DOS) Director of Planning and Building, presented information on urban agriculture at the meeting.

The planning department made it clear that it doesn't support chickens and miniature livestock in residential areas. A letter was presented from the Conservation Officer Service outlining possible consequences associated with allowing more farm animals in Squamish's residential neighbourhoods.

Sgt. Peter Busink was at the meeting and while he said his agency wouldn't take a stance on the issue, he noted that chicken coops would attract wildlife no matter how secure the chicken coop is.

The planning staff also shared a document produced by the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that indicated the organization is opposed to keeping chickens in residential areas. The SPCA document listed concerns over rats, poorly educated owners and disease.

The SPCA also claims hens can generally live seven to eight years and only produce eggs for about a year.

Morris said the SPCA stance is based on the experience of commercial farmers.

"That's talking about a factory hen," said Morris. "I know there's hens laying into their fifth year."

Councillor Susan Chapelle spoke in favour of changing policies to allow more backyard urban agriculture. She and Councillor Bryan Raiser both argued many wildlife attractants are currently tolerated in Squamish, including; cats, small dogs, fruit trees, berry bushes and outdoor storage of garbage totes.

Raiser noted that chickens are being kept in backyards despite the current bylaw that doesn't allow it and he said those people are mainly motivated to keep chickens as a way of educating their children about where food comes from.

"I can't get my head around how we can allow people to have cats and not chickens," said Raiser. "Done responsibly, I have a hard time telling somebody they can have a small cat that brings coyotes and such into their yard and not a chicken."

Councillor Doug Race made it clear that his concerns about increased wildlife conflicts leave him supporting the status quo.

"Increasing the number of attractants, common sense will tell you would increase the number of conflicts," said Race.

The issue will come back before council for a further discussion in the future. The next regular council meeting in Squamish is set for Sept. 4.

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