Bat­tle over bird can­nons in Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake

Nor­mal Farm Prac­tices Pro­tec­tion Board to hear com­plaints in the com­ing weeks

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - KARENA WAL­TER Karena.Wal­ter@ni­a­ 905-225-1628 | @kare­na_­s­tan­dard

Res­i­dents of a Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake neigh­bour­hood fed up with bird can­nons fir­ing off for hours at a time are hop­ing a pro­vin­cial board will hear their cries for peace.

Two ap­pli­ca­tions about noise com­plaints from the use of propane-fired bird can­nons are set to be heard by the Nor­mal Farm Prac­tices Pro­tec­tion Board next week and in June.

While can­nons have been used in ru­ral ar­eas of Ni­a­gara for ages, res­i­dents in the York Road area say the two vine­yards near their homes are newly es­tab­lished and are neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the lives of long­time home­own­ers.

“We’re caught in the cross­fire and it has re­ally af­fected the use and en­joy­ment of our prop­erty,” said James Fisher, who’s lived in his home for 38 years and hears the can­nons from both vine­yards. “Some days I would re­ally like to have the pa­tio door open and I can’t be­cause of the con­stant ex­plo­sive noise.”

Fisher said he can’t use his deck from Au­gust to Oc­to­ber and has to wear ear pro­tec­tion to go out into the garden.

“It’s just like bat­tle­field con­di­tions here in the fall.”

But agri­cul­ture in­dus­try ad­vo­cates say bird can­nons are a nor­mal, com­mon farm prac­tice in Ni­a­gara and an ef­fec­tive tool for grape grow­ers try­ing de­ter birds from pick­ing at crops.

“It’s zoned agri­cul­tural. They have ev­ery right to plant a crop and pro­tect that crop, pro­vid­ing ev­ery­thing is done ac­cord­ing to code,” said Henry Swierenga, a mem­ber rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture cov­er­ing Ni­a­gara who will be at the board pre-hear­ings to sup­port the grow­ers.

“There are rules and com­mon sense reg­u­la­tions that would ap­ply. As long as they are be­ing met, I would see no rea­son not to con­tinue us­ing those bangers.”

Bird can­nons, or bangers, are one of a slew of visual, acous­ti­cal and phys­i­cal scar­ers used by grape grow­ers with var­i­ous re­sults, in­clud­ing ty­ing shiny rib­bons to vines, in­stalling plas­tic birds, us­ing puls­ing light, hang­ing bal­loons with scary eyes and fir­ing hand-op­er­ated scare pis­tols.

Mario Pingue, one of the vine­yard own­ers named in an ap­pli­ca­tion, said bird can­nons have been the most ef­fec­tive tech­nique he’s used.

“I put ev­ery­thing up,” he said. “I put rib­bons, I put bal­loons, I put fal­cons up fly­ing here and there, but the best is the can­nons.”

He said he’s do­ing his best to work with the gov­ern­ment and didn’t want to com­ment fur­ther.

Swierenga said birds be­come ac­cli­ma­tized to different bird scar­ing meth­ods and it’s al­ways a strug­gle for grow­ers to keep the birds out. Even with net­ting, they can get un­der­neath and face a “smor­gas­bord,” do­ing a lot of dam­age in a big hurry.

He said bird banger com­plaints are not new and it falls on or­ga­ni­za­tions like OFA to ed­u­cate the pub­lic.

“Gen­er­ally I find that once we ex­plain the rea­son for them and the fact they’re not go­ing to be con­tin­u­ing well into the sea­son, there’s a fairly good un­der­stand­ing and ac­cep­tance of the fact they do use them.”

But the Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake res­i­dents who ap­plied to the board say their noise com­plaint case is unique be­cause the es­carp­ment am­pli­fies sound.

Marisa Conte, who’s lived in her York Road home for more than 30 years, said she’s get­ting the blast from the front, back and side­ways be­cause of her prox­im­ity to the es­carp­ment.

“Ev­ery time it went off and I’m out­side work­ing, I’d be jump­ing be­cause you’re not ex­pect­ing it,” Conte said. “It was like a bomb was ex­plod­ing right next to you. That’s how aw­ful it was.”

The ef­fect of the es­carp­ment is at the crux of the is­sue, said Win Laar, who’s lived in her home for 43 years.

Laar said the sound of can­nons used on flat ta­ble lands make a short-end­ing “pop” sound, but that’s not the case on the es­carp­ment.

“It echoes. It ric­o­chets,” she said. “We have peo­ple more than half a kilo­me­tre each side go­ing along the es­carp­ment who are both­ered by th­ese. It is to­tally different than on the flat ta­ble lands.”

She said she hears 78 ex­plo­sions per hour in the fall from half-hour be­fore sun­rise to half-hour after sun­set.

Laar said a pe­ti­tion with more than 70 sig­na­tures from res­i­dents ask­ing for the cannon noise to cease was given to the On­tario Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs.

A pre-hear­ing con­fer­ence at the Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake town hall in Vir­gil will be held by the board on May 23 to hear a com­plaint about the use of bird can­nons at Baker Es­tate Vine­yards on York Road. The pre-hear­ing will be im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by a set­tle­ment con­fer­ence to at­tempt to re­solve the is­sues and avoid go­ing to a full hear­ing.

A sec­ond pre-hear­ing con­fer­ence is on June 6 and is re­lated to the nearby Pingue vine­yard on Shep­pard Cres­cent.

Kirk Wal­st­edt, chair of the board, said in an email that ap­prox­i­mately half of the ap­pli­ca­tions re­ceived by the board are re­solved prior to a hear­ing.


Birds fly over a vine­yard in this file photo. Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake res­i­dents are lodg­ing com­plaints about bird can­nons used by winer­ies to scare off vine­yard snack­ers.

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