When dogs return to Willows Beach on Friday (Oct. 1), they best be leashed.
In June, a handful of residents approached council asking members to revisit the idea of allowing dogs on Willows Beach, in some capacity, from May 1 through Sept. 30. Dogs are banned in general during that period.
Not long after, Oak Bay and Victoria received letters from the federal government outlining the federal guidelines for the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Among the federal rules – no person who owns a dog or cat shall permit the dog or cat to run at large in a migratory bird sanctuary. Legislation also notes a game officer may destroy any dog or cat found chasing or molesting migratory birds in a migratory bird sanctuary.
The sanctuary, established in 1923, starts at the high water mark at 10 Mile Point in Saanich and stretches across the shorelines of Oak Bay, Victoria, Saanich, View Royal and Esquimalt.
In the letter, Environment and Climate Change Canada stated it has received numerous complaints from the public over interactions with off-leash dogs and migratory birds in Greater Victoria over the last few years. A study into the area is expected to be complete in the next year.
Oak Bay subsequently scrubbed references to “leash optional” dog use on Willows Beach from its website and council maintained the May 1 to Sept. 30 dog-free zone at Willows.
As the Oct. 1 return date approaches, new messaging appeared in Oak Bay – leash before you beach.
District releases note the “bylaw regarding dogs is silent on the requirement for leashes within the waterfront area. This has resulted in a practice of off-leash dog use in both McNeill Bay and Willows Beach; for clarity, no off-leash access is permitted.”
Victoria had a similar response and approach to Gonzales Beach.
In August, Victoria council approved removing Gonzales Beach from the city’s designated off-leash areas in its bylaws. Before that vote, dogs were allowed to be off-leash at the beach from Sept. 1 to May 31, but that didn’t align with federal regulations that apply to the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
– with files from Jane Skrypnek
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