Unable to quantify their numbers and ultimately unwilling to cull them, the District of North Saanich is choosing to educate people on rabbits and their propensity to be prolific.
At their Jan. 14 committee of the whole meeting, council voted unanimously not to undertake a rabbit control program.
Instead, they adopted a staff option to try to educate people on the issues around rabbit ownership and release, accidental or intentional. Part of that education material will include how property owners can respond to an exploding rabbit population in their yards.
“It’s an issue we have found can have a lot of emotion,” said director of planning and community services Mark Brodrick. “There are two distinct opinions on it.”
Councillor Dunstan Browne, chair of the committee session, read out a letter from Peter Hurley, the resident who first brought the issue to council’s attention. In it, Hurley stated he was disappointed with staff’s recommendation not to proceed with a municipal rabbit control program, but recognizes the reasons why.
Hurley did, however, urge council to help educate the public as a secondary option.
Staff did include an option to use the district’s website and newsletter to provide information, discourage rabbits as pets in the municipality, discourage their release and offer recommendations on their control — from fences and repellents, to brush control and inviting more predators.
Brodrick told council enforcing any new rules regarding rabbit control and release would be difficult, as would be asking the Capital Regional District (CRD) to add rabbits to its list of nuisance wildlife, which already includes deer, raccoons and geese.
“The CRD wants to see local municipalities do something first,” he said. “In the case of deer, they wanted communities to create a fencing and anti-feeding bylaw before (they) would consider getting involved.”
Councillors Elsie McMurphy and Celia Stock suggested a compromise and put forward the education option.
“The information is useful to the public,” added Mayor Alice Finall, expressing concern for any staff time involved.
She also questioned Hurley’s call for the district to create some form of restrictive laws that would make it illegal to sell unsterilized rabbits.
“We may not have the authority to do that,” she said.
Browne agreed, saying such a bylaw would be tough and costly to police.
Members of the public speaking to the issue Monday night said they didn’t think the rabbits posed as big an issue as it was made out to be.
Bernadette Green, however, said it is an issue and would like to see more information for people on the district’s website and in the newsletter.
Council unanimously voted to have staff publish information that would discourage the keeping of pet rabbits, discourage the release of domestic rabbits and to provide recommendations for property owners.
The decision is expected to be ratified at council’s next regular meeting on Jan. 21.