Opinion

COLUMN: Government: Wake up, and hear the cannons

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How do you stop a provincial government in its tracks, and make it run for cover, and hide behind old legislation?

Put a blueberry in front of it.

Or perhaps more accurately, a blueberry backed up by a propane cannon.

Victoria has been utterly ineffective in dealing with a controversy that has grown from a virtual blip on the public radar 15 years go, to a  full-blown controversy involving numerous communities, and countless residents and farmers.

At issue are Audible Bird Scare Devices, or ABSDs.

How this ever grew from a very bad idea to a “normal” farming practice is hard to comprehend, but here we are.

There are hundreds of these infernal devices around the region, blasting away at deafening decibel levels, multiple times per minute – some all day, every day.

Not only did they gain popularity as a way to keep starlings and other birds off the lucrative blueberry crops, cannons became enshrined in the Right to Farm Act, behind which cluster provincial politicians when pushed by frustrated, stressed citizens for relief from the maddening racket.

For the past two weeks, The News has explored the issue in depth in a series of stories.

It’s absolutely obvious that the current situation is untenable in the long-term. The farming act is outdated, unreflective of what’s happening today.

It’s also clear that viable alternatives to cannons exist for blueberry farmers. Many farms don’t use cannons, for a variety of reasons, including a shared dislike of the noise, and a willingness to try other methods such as falcons, streamers and kites.

Flying drone aircraft also hold strong promise as an effective, far less intrusive solution.

A number of things need to happen on this issue.

The shallow, ignorant argument so frequently put forth in response to cannon complainants – “You shouldn’t have moved next door to a blueberry farm?” – needs to be muzzled.

The reality of the situation is that, blueberry farms are proliferating, commonly on acreage that once grew other, less lucrative crops.

Many homeowners who have lived peacefully for years on their property suddenly find themselves cheek to jowl with a blueberry field that never existed previously.

Civic governments also wear responsibility for approving residential zoning next to agricultural land, with little to no thought or care as to how this interface will manifest into conflict, especially when some of those farms switch from “silent” crops to blueberry farming, and choose cannons as their bird protection.

The blueberry industry has become a juggernaut, and is poised to grow even larger as new Asian markets are opened up. Thousands of acres of agri land now growing cow feed or corn or raspberries are likely to be converted if the blue bonanza continues.

So, this problem isn’t going to go away. It’s going to get worse.

The provincial government has to grow a bigger set of berries, and finally tackle this issue, including:

- Initiate strictly enforced and significantly increased maximum limits on the number of shots, minimum setbacks from housing, hours of operation, and decibel levels.

- Set a deadline for the graduated phase-out of all cannons – say, two years max.

- Get on the research wagon, and drive some innovative ideas and testing.

- Examine existing starling management programs south of the border, develop built-in-B.C. versions, and get them implemented forthwith.

All manner of industries face strident regulations and restrictions on what they can and cannot do. Among them, the blueberry industry has been a sacred cow that needs to be led down a more contemporary path.

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