Municipalities scramble to bring bylaws in line with federal bird sanctuary rules

Municipalities are scrambling to ensure their bylaws are consistent with federal migratory bird sanctuary regulations.

Victoria council approved bylaw changes last week to remove Gonzales Beach from the city’s list of off-leash areas to bring its bylaw in line with the regulations. City staff said it was the only off-leash area in the city within the sanctuary.

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The federal government has also contacted Saanich requesting a change to a district bylaw that’s inconsistent with the sanctuary regulations.

Eva Riccius, senior manager of parks in Saanich, said the request is related to Cadboro-Gyro Park, the only Saanich beach that falls within the sanctuary limits. Dogs are currently allowed in the park off-leash, but under control from Sept. 1 to April 30, she said.

Dogs are not allowed at all in the park or on the beach from May through August, with some exceptions.

Staff are preparing a report to councillors proposing a bylaw change aligned with the federal regulations that’s expected to come to council in October, Riccius said.

Oak Bay posted a notice to its website clarifying for residents that dogs must be leashed at ­Willows Beach and McNeill Bay at all times.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said the federal government had been in touch with the district and deemed the city’s bylaws in alignment with the federal regulations.

However, the beaches have become commonly used by dog owners with unleashed dogs, so the district is planning to install signs informing residents that dogs need to be leashed below the high-water line.

That effectively means dogs should be leashed on all beaches at all times, unless owners can prevent their dogs from crossing the high-tide line, said Murdoch, who is hoping for additional clarification on the federal government’s expectations when a report is released next year.

He’s expecting this to be a difficult change for many. “Particularly Willows Beach is used in the fall and winter for a lot of dogs off-leash,” Murdoch said. “The dogs are used to it, they socialize down there, and we don’t have any obvious other secondary spots.

“It will definitely take some adjustment.”

In Esquimalt, two coastal off-leash areas at Saxe Point Park and Fleming Beach are above the high-tide line, putting them outside the boundaries of the sanctuary.

A spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada said penalties for violations start at $400, and higher penalties, such as prosecution, can be pursued “depending on aggravating factors.”

The federal regulations also say a game officer “may destroy any dog or cat found chasing or molesting migratory birds in a migratory bird sanctuary.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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