BANFF – Bunnies and bird-feeders are officially banned in the national park townsite.
But one town councillor argued that Banff residents should be allowed to have bird-feeders in winter – when wildlife like bears are in their dens.
“Have you given any consideration to adding that to our animal attractant bylaw?” said Coun. Brian Standish, referring specifically to a Town of Canmore bylaw that allows bird-feeders from December through until the end of March.
Administrative officials say guidance on this issue is taken from Parks Canada.
“I believe everyone that I talked to there is pretty adamant that they not be allowed,” said Tony Clark, the Town of Banff’s manager of municipal enforcement.
Federal legislation prohibits bird-feeders in Banff National Park, including the townsite. However, the process for park wardens to lay a charge is much more onerous than it would be under a municipal bylaw.
A change to the animal services bylaw, which was was passed by council on Tuesday (Oct. 13), now gives the bylaw department authority to issue fines for illegal bird-feeders as part of an ongoing effort to to keep hungry bears and other carnivores out of town.
Coun. Standish tried to put an amendment on the table for Banff to mirror Canmore’s bird-feeder bylaw, but administration said the municipality didn’t have authority to legally do that.
“We do live within the national park and feeding wildlife in the national park isn’t permissible,” said Town Manager Kelly Gibson. “I don’t think we can physically legalize bird-feeders within the Town of Banff.”
Coun. Standish promptly withdrew his proposal.
“I just wanted to make it known that I think if Canmore does it, then we should be able to do it too,” he said.
Mayor Karen Sorensen quipped: “If Canmore jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge?”
“Having sat on the wildlife co-existence committee, this was pertinent to that conversation… we are in a national park,” added the mayor.
Councillor Chip Olver said she wished she could have a bird-feeder, but understood why she can’t.
“I would just delight in looking out my window and watching birds there, but I understand the restrictions of living in national park,” she said.
“Even if your motion had been on the table Councillor Standish, I would have had to vote against it even though personally I would really enjoy having one.”
Meanwhile, the animal services bylaw was also amended to prohibit pet rabbits. Previously, the bylaw had limited the number of domestic rabbits per home to four.
Existing pet rabbits are grandfathered and therefore allowed.
Council wanted to make sure Banff didn’t end up with a feral rabbit problem similar to that in neighbouring Canmore, where a dozen or more domesticated rabbits were released in town in the 1980s.
Since 2012, the Town of Canmore has hired a contractor to live trap and humanely euthanize rabbits every year. The municipality has spent $482,517, equating to $290.32 per rabbit. The total number of rabbits captured during that time is 1,662.
When the trapping program started, the rabbit population was estimated to be about 2,000, and although there is no estimate now, short gestation periods and large litters can mean a rabbit population can bump from two to 70 within one year.
In Banff, there have been about 20 feral rabbits captured over the past five years. Many were relocated through the Earth Animal Rescue Society (EARS), with rabbits going to various sanctuaries in Calgary, near Cochrane and in Victoria, B.C.