Council votes down request from local business owner to graze sheep and goats on commercial property

Prince Albert city council has denied a request from a local small business owner to use goats and sheep to control grass and noxious weeds at one of his properties inside city limits.

Council voted 7-2 against a motion that would have sent the matter to city administration for further study. Mayor Greg Dionne was the most vocal opponent of the motion. He said previous efforts to use goats and sheep were ineffective because the animals kept getting loose. He worried this request would lead to similar problems.

“I can’t support a policy like this. It doesn’t say anything. It gives us no recourse if they (the animals) get out,” Dionne said during the Sept. 8 city council meeting. “Does he pay a fine? Does he pay a cost of the damage he’s done? Does he pay to catch them? It doesn’t say that there has to be a shepherd. It doesn’t say how they have to be maintained. It doesn’t say how we get out of it, if we allow it, and then they’re in there and we have a problem.”

Some councillors said they would potentially support the motion in the future, but believed the time wasn’t right for such an experiment.

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowksi said it’s a request worthy of discussion, but he didn’t believe bylaw officers had the tools to deal with the animals, should they become a problem.

“There is an opportunity there, but not if bylaw can’t respond,” he said during the meeting. “I think once we get bylaw in place, then let’s have a conversation about moving forward with this.”

Planning and Development Director Craig Guidinger said there are multiple issues to consider before allowing private businesses to use goats and sheep for lawn maintenance. The biggest involves amending Prince Albert’s responsible pet ownership bylaw, to make sure the animals are properly trained, sheltered and cared form.

“It is a simply concept, but it does require a significant amount of research,” Guidinger told council. “At this point, it’s a fairly high level of exploration.”

Couns. Terra Lennox-Zepp and Evert Botha were the only two councillors to vote in favour of the motion. Lennox-Zepp moved the original motion, which called on the City to allow businesses to keep goats and sheep, then amended twice after Dionne and other councillors said they wouldn’t support it. Her final motion called on city administration to write a report about the positives and negatives of the idea.

Lennox-Zepp said the issue has been talked about continually for years, and felt it was time to take a serious look at it.

“Having a policy to allow businesses to do this, I thought that was at least a lower hanging fruit than what Saskatchewan is doing,” she said, referencing a provincial push to have cities hire shepherds. “I respect what debate has happened. I respect the report, of course, however we have been talking about this in … different ways for four years.”

Botha floated the idea of using this business owner’s proposal as a pilot project, which could lead to future expansion if it worked well.

The City of Calgary launched a similar project to use goats and sheep in Confluence Park as a way to fight invasive weeds. In 2019, they expanded the project to include roughly half-a-dozen sites inside the city, and planned to purchase roughly 1,000 animals to begin grazing.

Calgary city officials issued an open invitation to shepherds allowing them to graze their animals at a number of city parks from June until October.

“It’s not a petting zoo—they’re there to work,” urban conservation lead told the Calgary Herald. “Grasslands in general benefit from a certain amount of grazing, and sending someone in to do spot treatment of weeds is roughly cost equivalent to putting goats on site for a few weeks.”

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