In response to concerns over the behavior of turkeys and other City wildlife, City staff has drafted an ordinance (see ordinance here) that would ban the feeding of certain wildlife, namely, coyotes, wild turkeys, foxes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, ducks, geese, crows, and gulls.
What constitutes “feeding”? Well, the ordinance spells this out pretty specifically. It includes both deliberate and intentional feeding as well as negligent feeding, with a provision for warning inadvertent violators of the ordinance.
I encourage everyone to take a look at the details of ordinance; my focus here is not on those details but rather on the pushback I’ve seen from the community, most recently with Sunday’s Enterprise column from Bob Dunning. I can’t tell how strong that pushback is, but on the assumption that it might be strong, I thought it was important to discuss.
First, there has been some pushback on types of allowed birdfeeders, and in response (according to another Enterprise article), the language regarding birdfeeders may be softened. This is the sort of back-and-forth that one expects with engaged Davisites, and it’s all to the good, with the end of producing a well-vetted and thought-through ordinance.
But I have also (and I think Mr. Dunning is an example) seen pushback against the very idea of the ordinance altogether. This is the pushback that concerns me.
For anyone who thinks that Davisites should be allowed to feed the wildlife listed above, I would ask them to ask themselves the following questions:
- Do you know that the food you are leaving out is appropriate for the animal’s diet, and won’t harm their health in the short-term or the long-term?
- Do you know that the food you are leaving out won’t contribute to the spread of disease among human and non-human animals?
- Do you know that the food you’re leaving out won’t cause problematic behavior in the animals that you’re feeding, causing them to become too comfortable with humans or even aggressive towards humans?
- Do you know that they food you’re leaving out won’t lead to an increase in animal population sizes beyond the carrying capacity of the area, potentially leading to starvation among the species in question, environmental degradation, or negative impacts on other species?
- Do you know that the food you’re leaving out won’t lead to evolutionary changes that could harm the species in the future?
and, the million dollar question:
- Even if you think that you know the answers to 1-5 (and you’d have to be pretty knowledgeable to do so), are you confident that all Davisites who might be inclined to feed wildlife are similarly knowledgeable?
People sometimes speak of “nuisance animals” or “vermin” or “pests.” But I think those are all inappropriate terms. Non-human animals are reacting to the environments that they find themselves in.
The only ones who can really choose whether or not to be a “nuisance” is us, humans.
The ordinance is aimed at changing our nuisance behavior. So, by all means, let’s improve the ordinance if it needs improving. But the ordinance is necessary. Let’s not hurt the animals that we purport to love.
Full disclosure: I am on the Open Space and Habitat Commission, which vetted and unanimously approved an earlier draft of the ordinance. However, I speak here for myself alone and not for the Commission.