Good fences make for good neighbours, but as far as Kaaren Soby is concerned, something more is needed.
Soby has issues with the Range Act, a piece of legislation that, according to Soby, allows livestock owners to evade liability for the damage done by their livestock to other people’s property.
“The gist of it is this: that if you are in a [Livestock District] you then have to fence the livestock-owners’ cattle out. It’s up to you,” said Soby. “When they are out, wandering about, any damage occurs, you also are responsible for paying for that damage.”
Kaaren Soby is an artist living by Tyhee Lake with her partner Larry Hewitt. Under the Range Act, her home on Hislop Road falls under the jurisdiction of a Livestock District. Since mid August, Soby has been dealing with cattle intrusions into her property. Intrusions in which cattle from a neighbouring ranch damaged tents used in the “campertunity” (outdoor bed-and-breakfast) business she runs on her property.
“I thought the livestock owners were absolutely wonderful. They responded in what I would thought was an ethical, principled way when I found that I had property damage as a result of calves,” said Soby. “The owners of the cattle paid replacement costs for purchasing a new tent. When the Ministry found out about this reasonable accommodation, they told the ranchers not to do this if any further damage was incurred from these roaming groups.”
Even her water supply has become contaminated with feces resulting from the cattle intrusion onto her property.
“We’ve been living there for 24 years. We live off-grid, me and my family. We’ve been collecting water for household use from this lake for 45 years, and also we drink this water,” said Soby. “This is serious contamination. This is my watershed. I think this, more than anything, is what spurred me on.”
“I’m not against ranching, I’m not against cattle, and I am not against the individuals involved. And I will collaborate where it is feasible,” said Soby. “The attitude is ‘Well, fence it out.’ How do you fence a lake and a creek? The creek runs the full length of our property. It’s our groundwater, our watershed.”
According to Jodie Kekula (integrated rangeland officer with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development) The Range Act came into force in 1978 and went through amendment in 2004. It allows the minister to grant permits allowing livestock grazing on B.C. Crown lands. Under the Livestock Act, livestock grazing under such a Range Act permit are permitted to be “at large” in livestock districts and “may be responsible for property damage.” However, in such districts “trespass proceeding may not be brought.”
“This was happening a lot in the community of Rosswood outside of Terrace,” said Soby. “And what did they do? They did what I’m spearheading, a petition. They asked to have their status changed.”
Soby is working with others affected by this issue to petition the government to re-classify the rural subdivision in which she lives as a Pound district rather than a Livestock district. In a Pound district, livestock are not permitted to be “at large” and livestock owners are considered liable for the damage their animals do to people’s property.
Kaaren Soby invites those affected and are concerned about this issue to sign her petition at Mountain Eagle Books, Interior Stationary, and Nature’s Pantry in Smithers, as well as Zelda’s Coffee Mug Cafe in Hazelton.
“I don’t name names. I have no particular vendetta against any individual. What I am trying to spearhead is a change of Act, a change of policy. An absolutely archaic policy that doesn’t apply to the year 2018,” she said.
In the meantime, Soby and Hewitt want people to considering buying rural property to ask their realtor under what jurisdiction any property they plan to buy and build on would fall under, as such foreknowledge prevents a lot of hassle for many people down the line.
“In a sense it might be important that the real-estate agents get involved and tell anyone who’s buying an acreage,” said Soby. “Unless this policy gets changed, it might be worthwhile for them first to find out about these various acts and what kind of jurisdiction their property is in. Because most people don’t know.”