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08-25-2003, 10:38 PM
Game and Fish proposes ban on feeding wild animals

Agency will ask cities to pass laws

Kate Nolan, The Arizona Republic

Aug. 25, 2003


Valley nature-lovers are feeding wildlife, but it's the Arizona Department of Game and Fish that's getting fed up.

The department is drafting a Valley-wide plan to stop wildlife feeding. In the next two weeks the Department of Game and Fish will approach each city, starting with Scottsdale.

Officials attribute a recent rise in aggression by wild animals, especially coyotes, to a growing reliance on humans for food. Fed animals lose their natural fear of humans.

The Game and Fish plan would make it easier to bust urbanites who feed backyard coyotes and other wildlife, but its real goal is to prevent feeding of wildlife in the first place, said Mike Senn, the department's assistant director of field operations.

This year alone, two people reported being bitten by coyotes in Scottsdale and four others in Maricopa County, compared with a total of eight coyote bites in the previous 15 years, according to the department.

Problems typically occur on urban frontiers where new developments have displaced the desert with golf courses or other wildlife havens of water, lush lawns, shelter and small dogs, cats and bunnies that can make a coyote's day.

"Almost all bites come from fed animals. Without the feeding, people and animals coexist fairly well," said Senn, crediting the new approach to Game and Fish wildlife specialists in Region VI. Based in Mesa, the region stretches from Casa Grande to Wickenburg, from the Superstition Mountains to Buckeye and includes Maricopa County.


Education plan


"I live this stuff on the ground, answering the calls about pets that get eaten," said Joe Yarchin, Region VI urban wildlife specialist. Indifference to coyotes isn't enough to keep them at bay, he said.

The approach calls for municipal bans on feeding. Game and Fish officials will work with cities to educate the public, train first responders and pass municipal ordinances against feeding wildlife. Proposing county and state no-feed laws is being considered.

The department also wants to work with planning boards and developers to create wildlife controls in new developments.

The most controversial component of the plan is a push to make feeding wildlife illegal.

Some people are surprised now when no legal action is taken against feeders.

After a coyote snatched Scottsdale resident Kathie May's puppy in June, she led a Game and Fish specialist to a nearby coyote den where residents had set out food. May was shocked that the department's response was limited to explaining potential dangers to the feeders.

Yarchin sends a letter to suspected feeders that outlines the problem and threatens legal action if a wild animal attacks someone after eating handouts.

The charge is criminal nuisance, but it's complicated to enforce and is rarely used. Yarchin would rather have a no-feed law.

An ordinance against feeding coyotes in Paradise Valley appears to be the only no-feed law in the Valley.

"We've never used it since I've been here," said Paradise Valley Police Chief John Wintersteen, an eight-year veteran. But it works well to discourage feeding, he said.


LA's experience


Regionally, county laws are becoming more common. Los Angeles County has a long-standing ordinance against feeding coyotes and other mammals, but LA's entrenched coyote population suggests the law may have come too late. Game and Fish experts say timely legislation may head off a Los Angeles situation.

No-feed ordinances are in place or being considered in other Arizona counties for various species.

Pima County banned feeding bears in 1996 after a Winterhaven woman refused to stop feeding them. That year, an area bear mauled a Girl Scout. Officials have never used the law, except as a threat, said Patti Woodcock of the Pima County Health Department, which enforces the ordinance.

Gila County bans feeding bears. Navajo and Apache counties have no bans.

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors is studying a broad no-feed ordinance initiated by Game and Fish and recommended by the county's health director. It forbids feeding or attracting wildlife and threatens a fine of up to $2,500 and jail term of up to six months.

Ron Seig, Game and Fish supervisor there, plans to ask Flagstaff to create an ordinance, too.

Any law, from a municipal ordinance to a statewide ban, will be tricky, said Yarchin in Mesa. "Distinctions need to be made between intentional feeders and inadvertent feeders," like people whose birdseed is gobbled by javelina or rodents that become coyote kill, he said.

The proposed Coconino County ordinance, for example, demands that bird feeding kits be elevated. Penalties would apply when it's obvious someone's pet food or birdseed is attracting wild animals and the feeding doesn't stop.


Working with cities


In Maricopa County, Game and Fish is targeting the urban wildlife hot spots. Prime areas are Scottsdale, north Phoenix, north Peoria, the Sun City area and north Mesa.

The first partner will be Scottsdale, whose northern border and Indian Bend Wash are seen as chronic problems. Game and Fish expects to create a template that can be used with other cities. The Sun City area is up next.

Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross welcomes the help although the city makes significant efforts already at public education. "I've had meetings with our folks on feeding," she said, but voiced concern about the difficulty of enforcing a no-feed law.

In unincorporated Maricopa County, Daryl Wimer, operations manager of the Sun City Homeowners Association, says coyotes are a fact of life.

"They roam the golf courses freely," Wimer said, but he was pessimistic that his group would implement a no-feed rule. Amending the bylaws is too complicated and expensive and requires a public vote of 40,000 residents, he said.

Both officials see the need for a ban on feeding but seem more open to county and state controls than to local enforcement.



Reach the reporter at kate.nolan@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-6863.