An internationally panned plan to capture and kill thousands of feral rabbits in Canmore, Alta., goes to a vote Tuesday night at the town's council.
The town of 12,000 residents has been overrun by leporine interlopers. Civic officials say there are now 2,000 of them, up from 1,000 four years ago and an original population of a dozen that were released into the wild by a resident in the mid-1980s.
Municipal personnel first surveyed people about the problem in 2007 and then set aside $50,000 in funding last year for a cull. They're worried the critters are attracting more and more predators into the town, about 80 kilometres west of Calgary.
"Before when it was only an isolated area, it wasn't as big a wildlife concern. But now with the rabbits moving through the town, and more coyotes starting to come into town to get to these animals, it just doesn't make any sense for us to continue the way that we're doing," Mayor Ron Casey said. Cougars have also been spotted in the town, he has said.
Canmore's feral rabbit management plan calls for the animals to be trapped, euthanized at another location and then sent to wildlife rehabilitation centres to be used as food.
But there are several hurdles before that can be put in place. The town council has to alter several bylaws, including a ban on trapping animals, and put out a tender for a trapper.
The plan is also facing opposition from residents, who have amassed several hundred petition signatures in opposition to the cull. A separate online petition has 350 names worldwide so far. And Casey said the town has received about 5,200 emails from the community in reaction to the proposal, with "about two-thirds against the program."
Still, many residents say the rabbits are a problem and need to be dealt with.
"There have been reports of incidents where coyotes have been coming into the yard to get a rabbit in the yard, and the kids have been in the yard and there's even been reports of a coyote nipping children," Annalise Acorn told CBC News in December.
An alternative method that Casey said he's open to is trapping the rabbits, sterilizing them and then moving them into a sanctuary.
Either way, the rabbits will be around for at least a few months more. After Tuesday's vote on various parts of the rabbit management plan, council will have to vote again to hire a trapper. It will likely take until November, Casey said, until the first bunny is bagged.