Prince Rupert backyard chicken idea going ahead, just very slowly

City Council has decided to explore the idea of allowing backyard chickens, but not until some more things come off their to-do list.

You may eventually be able to keep laying hens in your backyard in Prince Rupert, just not any time soon. City council has decided to add the idea, which was proposed by NWCC student Samantha Lewis in March, to its to-do list. That said, it will likely be several months before the council gets around to looking at it again.

Lewis’ proposal is to allow Rupertites to keep up to four chickens in their back yard for their eggs provided they get a license to do so from the City, and follow all the regulations regarding the housing, care and eventual disposal of their chickens.

Her idea for allowing urban chickens in Prince Rupert has certainly been well thought out. When Lewis brought her proposal to the city council she included a fully written amendment to the City’s bylaw that prohibits raising livestock inside city limits.

Lewis even worked out her own system for the licensing of and regulation of chicken ownership in the community including coop specifications, zoning and location restrictions and even fines for those found in violation of the rules.

Despite the work and research that Lewis put into her proposal, Prince Rupert’s city planner, Xeno Krekic, says that changing the rules to allow chickens will take more work than amending just the livestock bylaw. This is because Prince Rupert doesn’t have just one animal bylaw like some other communities do, it has a couple bylaws that deal with different aspects of animal ownership and they would all have to be changed.

So, aside from the livestock bylaw, the city will also have to make changes to the zoning bylaw as well. The only bylaw the city has that governs the licensing of domestic animals is one that only applies to dogs and the city’s regulatory staff haven’t even begun to look at what would need to be done to implement a licensing system.

“It suffices to say that a substantial amount of time will have to be dedicated to drafting and adopting the above noted instruments, as they will have to pass before your test,” Krekic told the city council.

“Substantial amount of time means about 80 to a hundred hours to execute this entire set of circumstances, that’s my estimate. That means about two weeks of work over 6 to eight months.”

While many of the councilors appeared to support the idea for allowing backyard chickens, most were reluctant to have city staff dedicate a lot of time to working on it because the City has an entire list of priorities it wants to get through this year.

“I think it would be great to test it publicly with a public hearing, but I’m not in great hurry right now. I know Mr. Krekic has other things on his plate that we need to get working on. We have to prioritize what we want Mr. Krekic to do, and I really don’t think this needs to be very high on that list,” says councilor Gina Garon.

Other councilors echoed that sentiment and city manager Gord Howie said that the chicken issue wouldn’t be going on the City’s to-do list until something else came off it.

For her part, Lewis says she’s just happy that council has decided give the idea some serious consideration, despite how long they might take to get around to it.

“As long as it’s on the go, it’s awesome. Even if they had said no, I’m so happy to have the dialogue raised. Food sustainability and food security is going to be more and more prevalent in the years to come, and I think we need to keep working towards making ourselves a more sustainable community,” says Lewis.

If Prince Rupert did decide to allow backyard chickens, it wouldn’t be the first in the region to do so. Terrace recently decided to allow chickens and Smithers considered it, but never went ahead with it.

Councilors wondered if they could save time by, instead of having city staff draft up completely new bylaw amendments specifically for Prince Rupert, just borrowing bylaws from other communities and alter them slightly to fit the city better. It was also suggested that they get proponents or opponents to volunteer their time to do the background research instead of having staff do it.

Lewis says tat she lifted much of her proposed chicken bylaw from other communities and says that she also says she would be happy to do any more research on the issue for the council if that’s what they want.

“Where I’m at with the whole chicken thing is that anything they need from me, whether its helping research bylaw amendments or if its hosting chicken workshops for people on the same page that’s definitely something I’m interested in,” says Lewis.

Not everyone is in favour of the allowing chickens though. Besides some residents who have approached councilors with concerns, the Prince Rupert SPCA has told council that they are against the idea.

While the BC SPCA is supportive of people looking for alternatives to factory-farmed eggs, they encourage people to buy eggs from SPCA certified cage-less farmers rather than raise chickens themselves.

In a letter to city council in April, former Prince Rupert SPCA manager Lindsay Vincent says that they simply do not have the resources to take in surrendered chickens, The BC SPCA also has concerns about the nutrition of commercially available bird seed, enforcement of humane conditions, risk of predator attacks and access to proper veterinary care.