Educating to end illegal feeding of wildlife
June 20, 2012As picnickers head to parks, education efforts expand to help end illegal feeding of wildlife
Many people are unaware of the issues that can result from feeding wildlife. For the public’s health and safety, Metro Parks has expanded efforts this summer to educate park users about the law prohibiting the feeding of birds and animals, and the health and safety risks illegal feeding can create for the public and wildlife.
“This is a chronic problem that endangers wildlife and results in costly consequences for our community. We are placing an emphasis on public education about why the law prohibits feeding,” said park superintendent Marina Becker. “We are optimistic that once educated about the issue, those who care about wildlife and the well-being of our community will quit feeding birds and animals.”
Visitors to Point Defiance and Wapato Park will notice more regulatory signs – both permanent and portable/temporary – highlighting just a few of the reasons why feeding is illegal. Park staff will work to distribute more than 5,000 informational cards to park visitors to help raise awareness.
As a last resort to curb this issue, off-duty officers will conduct a limited number of focused patrols throughout the summer, beginning mid-July. Violation of Tacoma Municipal Code 8.27.130, which prohibits the feeding wildlife, carries a penalty of $532.
Why the Law Exists:
Protecting Wildlife and Community Health & Safety
Feeding is not only potentially harmful to wildlife; it can also lead to significant health and safety risks for humans and domesticated pets as well. As wildlife becomes conditioned by human feedings, many species will actually alter their natural behaviors, resulting in adverse consequences.
For example, Canada geese will completely change their migratory habits and take up permanent residence when conditioned by routine feeding.
A normal diet for geese would consist of grass, seeds and aquatic plants. Human foods lack the nutrients provided by these food sources. So when you feed bread, popcorn and other foods to young geese, it can literally result in bone deformities that can cripple them and keep them from ever being able to fly.
Interactions with humans during feeding can also lead to a loss of natural instincts to retreat from people. In fact, wildlife can actually exhibit more aggressive and territorial tendencies when conditioned to view people as a source for food.
On land, goose excrement provides a breeding ground for E Coli. Geese scatter their waste through picnic and play areas as they travel confidently toward people who offer bread and other foods.
“Geese are natural carriers of a number of disease causing germs that can cause serious illnesses in humans,” said Ray Hanowell of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “Exposure to these germs can come from direct contact with goose feces, or swimming in lake water that has been contaminated with goose feces. Feeding the geese can encourage higher numbers to congregate at the lake increasing the risk of human illnesses.”
The feeding of raccoons at Point Defiance has led to similar issues. Raccoons are naturally nocturnal creatures; yet due to conditioning from feedings, they are commonly found begging along 5 Mile Drive throughout daylight hours. Studies indicate that raccoons are an intelligent species, prone to remember solutions to a task for as long as three years. It’s no wonder that these animals are so easily conditioned to view all humans as a potential resource for food, once one of us has handed over a tasty treat. Like Canada geese, raccoons can become quite aggressive when expectations for food are not fulfilled.
When the need to forage for food within their native habitat is replaced by an abundance of food readily handed over by passersby, overpopulation inevitably occurs. You may recall the outbreak of Canine Distemper among the raccoon population at Point Defiance last summer. While the virus posed no threat for humans, it did pose a temporary risk for unvaccinated pets if they had come in contact with an infected animal or its feces. Unfortunately the infected raccoons also typically died an unpleasant death. The virus is one of nature’s regulators for bringing overpopulation of the species under control.
“Raccoons are also carriers of the rabies virus and “raccoon roundworm”. Although bats are the main concern for rabies in Washington State, raccoons are the largest source of rabies in most other areas of the United States. Due to the threat of roundworm, and the rabies and distemper viruses, it’s best to avoid human and pet contact with raccoons” added the Health Department’s Ray Hanowell.
Efforts to Reduce Overpopulation:
Over the years, Metro Parks has enlisted special services and employed a number of activities to help address overpopulation issues. In an effort to minimize human health risks, while attempting to deal humanely with overpopulation issues, the Park District:
- Modified landscapes to deter geese
- Utilized noise makers, lasers and decoys to encourage geese to relocate by making the area less comfortable and appealing to them
- Hired professional dog handlers to disperse Canada geese from parks
- Worked with USDA Wildlife Services to addle eggs when nests are found in parks
- Installed signage throughout the park system to increase awareness of the law prohibiting the feeding of wildlife
- Focused park staff efforts on outreach with visitors to communicate that feeding is bad for the wildlife, has negative impacts on water quality and the environment, poses health and safety risks to humans and pets and is illegal.
Summer Enforcement - Focused Patrols & Fines
In mid-July off-duty police officers will begin to conduct focused patrols at random times, with special enforcement efforts in parks where chronic feeding and overpopulation issues persist. During the focused patrols, citations in the amount of $532 will be issued to anyone violating Tacoma Municipal Code 8.27.130 which prohibits feeding wildlife.