League of Cities addresses backyard agriculture, other municipal issues

The Dixie Center at St. George | Stock image | St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Civic leaders from across the state are gathering for the Utah League of Cities and Towns 2016 Midyear Convention at the Dixie Center St. George. 

The annual conference started Wednesday and concludes Friday and drew hundreds of elected and appointed civic leaders to learn about current municipal issues and about the 2016 general session of the Utah Legislature and its impact on local government. 

Session topics range from serving the homeless to formulating beekeeping regulations; from cybersecurity to the risks and benefits of using social media.

The Auxiliary Agenda includes a tour of Tuacahn Theater, a volunteer service project at the Dove Center and a Friday morning tour of the All Abilities Park in St. George which attendees may take on foot or by bicycle. 

Read more: All Abilities Park, playground coming into focus

Backyard agriculture

The League’s president is Lynn Pace, city councilman with the City of Holladay. Pace spoke in a backyard agriculture session, discussing the recent trend towards keeping backyard chickens and the best way for cities to handle regulation.

Pace has seen both sides of the issue, as a member of the Holladay City Council and as someone who has raised chickens for 40 years. After World War II, many cities across the country adopted food production ordinances, Pace said, allowing residents to keep chickens, pigs and other food sources in their backyards.

“This is not a new issue,” Pace said, “we’ve had chickens and eggs for a long time. But it is trendy and so for whatever reason, it’s become fashionable to have a few hens in the backyard and a few eggs for breakfast.”

That is a new situation for a lot of cities. Many of those ordinances are still on the books, so city leaders should check before passing new ordinances.

Banning chickens is not the answer, he said, because residents typically will keep chickens anyway. A better approach is to treat the issue like cities treat pet dogs – dogs are legal to own, however there are ordinances in place to keep the animals from becoming a nuisance to other residents.

Issues that cities may want to regulate include the location of chicken coops; and how to handle noise, odor and trespassing chickens. Typically residents want to put chicken coops against a fence, because the fence forms one of the four walls needed to contain the birds.

“And then it’s right next to your neighbor,” Pace said, “and whatever mischief happens there goes under the fence into your neighbor’s yard. So you’ll want to be specific about where (chicken coops) can be.”

Other challenges that need to be addressed by municipalities considering chicken ordinances include suitable lot size, number of chickens allowed, rodents and other animals and whether or not roosters can be kept.

Urban beekeeping is another trend that has picked up speed, Stephen Stanko said in the same session. Stanko is an inspector with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

Common fears related to beehives include health and nuisance problems, bee stings and people who are allergic to bees, Stanko said. While there have been some problems, there are only 50-60 bee-related deaths in the U.S. each year – about the same as deaths caused by lightning strikes.

Stanko estimates there are between 30,000 and 50,000 beehives in Utah. Like Pace, he said banning backyard beekeeping is not the best policy. People will keep bees anyway; but if they are illegal, city officials won’t know where hives are located.

“The best defense is well-managed hives,” he said. “We want productive, gentle bees.”

Read more: Bee season: Balls of bees in trees, swarms; what you need to know

Stanko suggested that cities writing beekeeping ordinances require hives to have a nearby water source to keep them from being attracted to neighbors’ pools and water features.

Ordinances should also require a side or backyard placement and a flight path orientation that is set up to minimize conflict. Bees will establish a flight path depending on what direction the hive entrance is facing.

“They rise pretty rapidly, so about 10 feet away from the hive they’re going to be  about 15 feet in the air, so well over everyone’s head,” Stanko said. If a good orientation is not possible, physical barriers such as dense vegetation or fences can prevent problems.

Bad regulatory ideas include large fees and rules not based on science such as limiting the number of boxes, limiting the size of a colony and unrealistic requeening requirements. In addition, having too stringent of hive-to-lot ratios is a bad idea, Stanko said. Almost any size lot can support two hives.

Stanko encourages cities drafting beekeeping ordinances to get local beekeepers involved and to contact the Agriculture Department for science-based advice.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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