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Kamloops council approves urban hens in the city

Chickens have come home to roost in Kamloops -- and Coun. Arjun Singh is hoping the corny jokes that have accompanied the decade-long debate are laid to rest.

Chickens have come home to roost in Kamloops -- and Coun. Arjun Singh is hoping the corny jokes that have accompanied the decade-long debate are laid to rest.

At a public hearing Tuesday night, Kamloops council finally put an end to the drawn-out issue, voting 6-3 in favour of allowing even small city lots to own a limited number of egg-laying hens, subject to various rules in the bylaw, which will come into effect on June 21.

Until now, only properties a minimum of one acre in size were allowed to house hens in a coop.

The bylaw will prohibit the inclusion of roosters or chicks and will limit the number of hens at each address to between two and five. All hen owners much build a fully enclosed coop that must be within a fully enclosed yard and at least three metres (10 feet) from the door or window of the home. Neither the eggs laid, nor the meat of the hens, may be bought or sold, and all hen owners will be asked to voluntarily register online.

Councillors Marg Spina, Donovan Cavers, Arjun Singh, Dieter Dudy, Denis Walsh and Tina Lange voted in favour of allowing hens, while Mayor Peter Milobar and councillors Ken Christian and Pat Wallace cast votes in opposition.

Nine members of the public spoke at the public hearing, with five speaking in favour, two stating their opposition and two with no opinion, but raising issues with the drafted bylaw.

Those speaking against the bylaw cited noise, smell and the possibility of attracting rodents and wildlife, while those speaking in favour said raising hens in backyards speaks to food security and can be educational in teaching urbanites where their food originates.

Frank Ritcey, an Aberdeen resident who is with WildSafe BC, a program designed to reduce human-wildlife conflict, urged council to add mandatory electric fencing to its bylaw to deter bears from entering yards with hens. In the end, Ritcey's suggestion was not adopted.

He said there were more than 1,100 calls in B.C. last year concerning wildlife/livestock conflict, noting virtually none of those calls included properties with electric fencing.

"Once a bear gets into a chicken coop, it's going to come back again and again," Ritcey said, noting Williams Lake, Kaslo and Squamish are three communities that have added electric fencing their urban-hen bylaws.

When asked by Lange about the dangers of electric fencing, Ritcey said 7,500 volts is the minimum required and will not permanently damage a person.

"Electric fencing is designed to hurt, not harm," he said. "A two-year-old is not going to touch it again -- and neither is a bear."

Milobar has been opposed to the bylaw from the beginning.

"There are so many different areas of food security we could be addressing and are trying to address," he said, adding his main concern was the fact the city was allowing hens on the smallest of lots -- 370 square metres (4,000 square feet) -- in one step.

Milobar also expressed doubts all hen owners will adhere to the setbacks required in the bylaw.

Christian likewise voted against the bylaw, arguing talk of the hens connecting people with food-source knowledge was a bit "romantic."

"I don't believe we have an egg shortage in Kamloops," Christian said. "I also don't believe we need chickens in our backyards to know where eggs come from any more than we need to slaughter a goat in our backyard to know how goat meat comes to us."

Cavers addressed concerns raised by opponents, zeroing in on the concern with the amount of feces to be produced by the hens.

"Dogs produce a lot more crap than chickens do," he said.

While Spina and Lange said legalizing hen ownership on smaller lots will likely not lead to a serious spike in the birds, Wallace suggested otherwise.

"I hope our bylaw people are well-rested because once this gets underway, I think they're going to get busier," she said.

Bonnie Klohn of the Kamloops Food Policy Council spoke in favour of the bylaw and reiterated her group's willingness to offer support as a community partner in the form of education.

Klohn noted she had first appeared before council on the matter in 2009 and called the bylaw "one of the most thorough reports we have seen."

The bylaw includes a maximum $10,000 budget for the bylaw department to cover the construction of a chicken pound (coop), training and equipment to catch wayward hens. RELATED