PRESCOTT – Arizona Game and Fish officials regularly get calls about Prescott residents who are putting out feed – reportedly with the intent of attracting wildlife such as javelinas and mountain lions.
“Because of this irresponsible feeding, we see herds of javelinas moving through the community,” District Wildlife Manager Scott Poppenberger says.
For the most part, though, Poppenberger told the Prescott City Council this week, the Game and Fish Department has little recourse to deal with those people (other than using the state’s criminal code).
Poppenberger and Wildlife Manager Supervisor Darren Tucker attended the council’s Tuesday, April 19, meeting to offer support for a proposed city ordinance that would make it illegal to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly feed wildlife or attract wildlife” in Prescott.
The city ordinance would allow for enforcement by Arizona Game and Fish officers, animal control offers, city code enforcement officers, and other AZPOST (Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board) certified officers.
After hearing from the Game and Fish officials, as well as from a number of local residents – both in support and in opposition – the council chose to postpone a vote on the ordinance to allow for further adjustments in the wording of the ordinance.
Poppenberger explained after the meeting that state law allows Game and Fish to enforce a wildlife-feeding ban in counties with populations of more than 280,000. That excludes Yavapai County, he said, which has a population of about 220,000.
The city ordinance would give Game and Fish officers the authority they need to cite the small percentage of people in the community who are flagrantly feeding large wildlife, Poppenberger said.
“We’re talking about the 1 percent out there,” he said, noting that the department is not interested in citing people who responsibly feed songbirds.
The uncertainty over how the ordinance would affect the use of bird feeders and birdbaths was central in the discussion this week, as well as at the previous council meeting April 5. After that meeting, the city added an exception to the ordinance for water features such as fountains, ponds, and birdbaths.
But Eric Moore of Jay’s Bird Barn maintained that imposing restrictions “is a slippery slope, because there’s thousands of bird feeders on the market.”
Although he voiced support for an ordinance that would regulate the feeding of large animals, Moore urged the council not to take action that would affect the community’s enjoyment of the varied bird life.
“I think the deliberate and reckless attraction of wildlife should be outlawed,” Moore told the council. “But you need to do it right the first time.”
Council members agreed and asked for more clarification on the bird-feeding issue.
Discussion of a wildlife-feeding ban dates back to October 2015, when the council heard from local resident John Allen about an incident in which his wife and dog were attacked by a herd of javelina while out for walk. Allen urged the city at the time to ban the feeding of wildlife.
He repeated his concerns again this week. Responding to another resident who maintained that the city should educate the public about the dangers of feeding wildlife rather than regulate, Allen said, “I don’t think education will work if there’s not a consequence. It’s completely irresponsible, and people will not stop unless there’s a law.”
But others in the audience voiced opposition to the ordinance, cautioning the council against overreacting to behavior by a small segment of the community.
“I strongly disagree with this ordinance; I think it is over-reaching,” resident Phil Goode told the council.
Terril Shorb, a long-time faculty member at Prescott College, agreed. “It feels to me like it is possibly a legal slippery slope,” Shorb said. “I have concerns about a little over-reaction here.”
The council asked to have the matter back on the agenda for its May 3 meeting.