Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Capital Regional District Compensation to Sheep Producer Not Right

     In February this year, a wolf dog running at-large on Salt Spring Island killed sixteen sheep over two nights on Ted Akerman’s farm. Ted spent a cold night in his truck watching his flock, and at daybreak sighted the wolf-dog and killed it with his shotgun. The dog had no identification, and no owner came forward. Ted filed for compensation with the CRD, and three months later the CRD Board voted to compensate Ted with $750 – less than $47 per sheep. To add insult to injury, Ted found this out by reading his local paper on the ferry. A few weeks later he received his cheque in the mail.
     The CRD bylaw states that the compensation shall be the “lesser of (a) 75% of the decrease in the market value of the animal as a result of its death or injury, or (b) $750 dollars”. The emphasis on “the” and “it” indicates the singular, that is, a single compensation for each animal. The ceiling is based on the fact that some producers may have sheep that are registered purebreds that may fetch a higher price as premium breeding stock. Some purebred registered sheep are worth thousands of dollars, thus the cap per animal of $750. As a benchmark, the federal government’s valuation maximum for sheep is $300 for unregistered sheep and $1,200 for purebred registered sheep. The current market value of lambs is about $200, so compensation by the bylaw formula should have been $2,400 – certainly not $750.
     As a representative of the BC Sheep Federation (BCSF), I faxed and emailed the CRD to inform them of their misinterpretation of the bylaw. I received an email reply from Ken Hancock, Southern Gulf Islands CRD Director, stated that “the interpretation (since the bylaw’s inception) is that the intent of the bylaw is to set a maximum of $750 per incident as opposed to a maximum of $750 per animal”. This was backed up in a letter by Dan Brown of CRD Bylaw Services, who added that local government does not have to compensate livestock owners, citing the provincial statute that says a local government “may” compensate.
     It is amazing to think that anyone would assume that the $750 limit is regardless of the number of animals killed or injured.   According to legal opinion obtained by the BCSF, the CRD is not correct in its interpretation that the total compensation limit is $750. There is also a precedent; in 2003, another Salt Spring sheep producer received $810 for 8 sheep killed by a dog. Garth Hendren, Salt Spring Island CRD Director, was sympathetic to the plight of the Akermans and agreed to have the CRD lawyer review the bylaw, hopefully resulting in a review of the Akerman’s case. Given that back in the 1970’s Salt Spring had over 200 sheep killed by dogs in a single year, the few livestock owners that apply for compensation now are a fraction of what the province used to compensate for.
.     In 1875 in BC, the Livestock Protection Act was passed to help prevent dogs from becoming a nuisance to livestock. The Act replaced the Sheep Protection Act and allowed for livestock owners to shoot dogs that were chasing or attacking their livestock, and to be compensated for losses due to dog attacks. All dogs were required to be licenced and the fees were placed into a consolidated fund to be used for compensation to livestock owners. People with dogs that were either shot or caught attacking livestock were required to pay compensation into the fund, which would go toward compensation of the livestock owner. The Act was repealed in 2003, as it was believed that it was redundant with many municipalities and regional districts that were already licencing dogs and should be responsible for the control of dogs in their jurisdiction, and also responsible for the compensation of livestock owners through the Local Government Act. The portion of the Act that allowed farmers to shoot the dogs attacking their stock was placed into the Livestock Act.
     This has not worked out very well for some livestock farmers and ranchers. Some jurisdictions do not licence dogs, compensate poorly or do not compensate at all. Bowen Island, the location of wolf-dog attacks that were in the news across Canada this year, is one such municipality. When the wolf-dog was finally shot, it did not have a licence since licences are not required there. Bowen Island also does not compensate livestock owners for dog attacks or kills, and does not allow the discharge of firearms.
     The CRD only receives one or two claims per year and budgets approximately $2,000 annually for compensation. In 2007 there were over 7,000 dogs in the CRD and over $128,000 in licence fees collected. In a 2008 staff report dog numbers had increased to almost 11,000 and there were three claims for compensation in four years for only $925 paid out in compensation to livestock owners. There are more dog attacks that occur, but if the dog has a licence the compensation comes directly from the dog owner.
Regional and local governments should understand that one of their roles is to control the dog population through licencing, and with that licence fee there should be fair compensation. The local government that does a good job of educating, licencing and controlling stray dogs will not have to pay out much in compensation. And they certainly should ensure that the compensation is fair to the livestock producer. When local governments talk about supporting local agriculture, they should understand that controlling stray dogs is one way they can help.
     The BCSF has initiated a scan of dog bylaws and a preliminary report will be presented at the AGM of the BCSF in Duncan on October 15th. All sheep producers are welcome to attend.

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