Don Alberg

Cattle clash focus turns to trees in Gordon Head

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard is promising to fight any attempt to cut down more than 100 trees at a Gordon Head cattle feed lot.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard is promising to fight any attempt to cut down more than 100 trees at a Gordon Head cattle feed lot.

A staff report made available Tuesday notes several ongoing concerns around the Alberg family cattle feedlot on Mount Douglas Cross Road.

The five-acre lot is being used to raise 42 head of cattle while the Albergs and the municipality remain at odds over how to proceed with rezoning the land for residential use and removing it from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The Albergs plan to add another 12 cows to the feed lot this season.

In the meantime, about 100 Garry oak trees on the property are under threat after the Albergs applied for a tree removal permit from the District of Saanich to make room for manure storage.

About 25 trees were already cut down because the owners believed a tree cutting permit had been obtained, said Don Alberg, who co-owns the feed lot property with his siblings, Gordon Alberg and Florence Davis.

“We paid for it [the permit] and we figured we had the permit and everything,” Don said.

“I had informed (the District) it was what we needed to do for the feedlot. Then we cut trees and they said we did it without a permit.”

If the family wants to make the current farming business viable, they need to remove the trees, Don said.

But Mayor Frank Leonard said Saanich has no intention to approve the removal of the trees.

“The (Albergs’) legal council wants a permit to remove trees, and we’ll take measures to not issue the permit,” Leonard said.

The Albergs have made multiple applications to rezone the property for the purposes of a residential development, including an application for a 16-unit development in March.

At one point the proposals included covenants to protect the Garry oak meadows.

“The way things are going, there’ll be nothing left to protect,” Leonard said.

The report also suggests to neighbours – many of whom have publicly aired their frustration about a feedlot in their backyards – can go to the Farm Industry Review Board.

“The intensity of farm use on the property is of concern to us,” Leonard said. “We’re offering to assist neighbours if they want to go to the FIRB. As more cattle come in it could be said, ‘This is too many.’”

Leonard pointed to the Beckwith Farms use of bird-repelling cannons from 2010 to 2012.

The cannons were used to stave off Canada geese, which killed a reported 12,000 blueberry plants in a few days, but were eventually cancelled due to pressure from the neighbours with support from the municipality.

The Alberg feedlot tree issue is only the latest development in the ongoing saga.

Both the municipality and the Albergs believe the other side is failing to take action on the matter.

To actualize the property rezoning and residential development, Saanich says the land first needs to be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The Albergs disagree and say there is no legal obligation to do so.

Don Alberg also cites a lack of trust with the city, but remains hopeful a residential rezoning can happen.

“We need to sit down and say look, we’ve gone far enough, it’s an impasse,” Don said.

reporter@saanichnews.com