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On the Proposed Ordinance to Prohibit the Feeding of Certain Wildlife

TurkeysIn 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:

  1. 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?
  2. Do you know that the food you are leaving out won’t contribute to the spread of disease among human and non-human animals?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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:

  6. 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.


Sue Greenwald

I am VERY, VERY much opposed to this ordinance. I do not want to live in the kind of city that would have this ordinance.

Feeding wild animals is human nature. It teaches children to care about animals. If you allow children to interact with wild animals, they will learn about the sentience -- the intelligence --of animals. Children that interact with wild animals will be far more likely to develop the commitment and passion for animals that will be required if we are to preserve their habitat and mitigate the coming mass extinction.

This ordinance isn't about helping wild animals. It's about attaining the complete separation of species so that we can have our tidy little suburban neighborhoods completely undisturbed.

Please watch this clip from Mary Poppins. Would you rather be a city of Michaels or a city of Mr. Daweses!

Roberta L. Millstein

That's all very well, Sue, but it doesn't address the concerns I raised in my post. If we love animals then we treat them well, and that means not allowing citizens to feed them in any haphazard way they choose, which is the situation now. That will only harm the animals themselves. Sometimes loving something means exercising self-restraint and not doing something that gives you pleasure but brings the thing you love harm. I think there are other and better ways to get children to care about non-human animals.

Sue Greenwald

I disagree, Roberta. First, I think animals are pretty good at figuring out what foods are bad for them. For example, I was leaving almonds for the scrub jays in our yard, and they wouldn't touch them, so I looked it up and, sure enough, almonds are bad for scrub jays.

But the overriding issue is that we are facing a mass extinction caused by us, and ANYTHING we can do to create a strong emotional bond between people and wild animals is critically important to gathering support for various legislation to help wild animals. A child who has never had the profound experience of occasionally feeding a wild animal or otherwise interacting with one is going to be far less likely to support measures, some of them expensive, that will be needed to help mitigate the mass extinction that is already underway.

Please think about this.

Pam Gunnell

Well then, if serious, all cats would need to be indoor cats as outdoor cats are a definite food source we provide for coyotes in Davis.

But more seriously, I would love this first to be a educational campaign and not an ordinance. Perhaps information could be included in the monthly city bill to help guide people what is detrimental. The truth is it will be difficult to police and enforcement will probably be very difficult and spotty, and rely on neighbors turning each other in.

I always provide water for birds in Davis and I think it is a help. I remember a dry Spring when the robins first arrived and were just ravenous for water. I filled garbage can lids and pots with water over and over for a few days. They drank and bathed and were so happy. And the birds use my birds bath all summer and winter.

Roberta L. Millstein

Sue, I think you are mistaken about the wisdom of animals to only eat what is good for them. To give one example, people often feed birds and other wildlife white bread, and yet white bread has been shown to be harmful to them (just as it's not so great for humans), if for no other reason that they fill up on it and don't eat more nutritional options. There is also evidence that it causes angel wing.

I remember very distinctively being 10 years old and traveling out west (I grew up on the east coast) to see the National Parks. We were told not to leave food out for a bear to get it, because, among other reasons, it could affect the bear's hibernation. But this did nothing to dim my love for wild animals. Instead, it taught me that our actions had consequences, that we had to protect the wild things, that they had lives of their own that didn't involve entertaining us. I think these are all important lessons. We are indeed all interconnected but that means knowing when not to engage. I grew up to be a fierce protector of the environment and wild animals, and as an adult, was privileged to see quite a number of black bears in Sequoia National Park, experiences I never forgot. But I also never forgot that I should always act in ways that "do no harm" to the bears, of which not feeding them (inadvertently or deliberately) was just one part. So, yes, I think there are plenty of other way to connect children to wildlife: nature shows, national parks, even some zoos (although many zoos do not treat animals the way they should, so I am cautious there). We don't need to harm animals by feeding them in order to love them.

Roberta L. Millstein

Pam, I think the problem is that, with respect to the turkeys, the educational campaign has not worked. People are still feeding them. I think that's a big impetus for the ordinance.

As for neighbors turning each other in, I doubt this will be rampant. At least, it's not been rampant with the smoke ordinance. Every winter when I walk my dogs at night I could pretty much choke on the smoke. I agree that enforcement will be difficult and so it will probably be only the most egregious and obvious cases that are acted upon.

There is nothing in the ordinance to prohibit leaving out water for birds.

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