Canmore is proposing to trap and kill its rampant rabbit population.
Recent years have seen both the number of feral rabbits in the community explode and the pressure to deal with the critters increase.
This week, manager of bylaw services Greg Burt unveiled a management plan for dealing with the animals, which he said have become a wildlife attractant issue.
“Feral rabbits are a wildlife attractant in town and feral rabbits damage public and private property,” Burt said. “The goal of the feral rabbit management plan is ultimately to control and eliminate feral rabbits from the town of Canmore.”
He said town neighbourhoods offer the rabbit population ample shelter and food sources while they leave behind feces, which is a health and safety concern for residents.
However, Burt said feral rabbits also elicit mixed feelings in the community. In 2007 a survey of residents showed a 50/50 split between those who wanted them dealt with and those that did not.
District Fish and Wildlife Officer Ron Wiebe said he is supportive of the Town’s move.
“I think this is a good opportunity for the Town to make a move and limit the number of rabbits and the population,” Wiebe said. “I believe the rabbits are attractants and they could potentially bring coyotes or cougars into town.”
He said Fish and Wildlife officers and the public have seen coyotes often in the community chasing rabbits.
However, because they are a feral population originating from people setting household pets loose, they do not fall under the provincial government’s jurisdiction.
The management plan proposes to hire a contractor to humanely capture the animals on public land and euthanize them at a separate location. How that euthanizing takes place is dependent upon the proposals received by the municipality by potential contractors, according to Burt.
He said a system for private property owners to request the contractor to capture feral rabbits on their land as part of the program will be developed.
Once euthanized, the rabbits will be put to a beneficial use such as feed at a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Burt said he has been in conversation with several such centres, but would not comment as to which ones.
Council has yet to officially approve the management plan and it will return at the beginning of July for support.
Over the years, the Town of Canmore has implemented a number of other policies and programs to deal with wildlife attractants.
Those include a move to bear-proof garbage bins beginning in 1997, a waste control bylaw in 2001 that prohibited placing or storing animal attractants or household waste composters outside, as well as birdfeed, between April 1 and Oct. 1.
In 2005, Canmore established Bow Valley Wildsmart and in 2011 a new animal control bylaw that prohibits residents from keeping or causing feral rabbits to be on their property.
“All these programs were introduced to reduce negative human wildlife interactions in Canmore and dealing with rabbits is the next step,” Burt said.
When it comes to population control, he pointed out female rabbits can give birth to litters of up to seven young every 31 days and a population can increase from two to 70 in one year.
Burt detailed to council the experiences at the University of Victoria and City of Kelowna in dealing with feral rabbit populations there.
He noted both places had geographically restricted populations.
Burt said Alberta regulations prevent using poison on rabbits, but there are no regulations restricting them from being trapped and transported.
However, he said the town’s hunting and trapping bylaw will have to be amended to allow the contractor to do so.
“The best time to begin (the program) is in winter when food sources are scarce and we will have the greatest amount of success.”