Tenzi Kelly knows the dangers of feeding wild animals. Yet, she still offers handouts near her Berkeley Lake home.
After all, the 34-year resident said she has seen critters on the brink of starvation, and she can't bear to watch raccoons or squirrels go hungry and possibly die.
"My feeling about life is, we are all in it together," said Kelly, her voice crackling with emotion. "Maybe the animals can fend for themselves. Maybe they can't. But for us to deny life to other creatures, I don't feel good about it."
But soon, Kelly and other wildlife lovers could face stiff sanctions from the city if they toss apples to the foxes, bread to the geese or chicken to the hawks.
In a trailblazing move to stop the human-to-animal meal ticket, Berkeley Lake city leaders are putting the finishing touches on an ordinance that would impose fines up to $1,000 for willfully feeding wildlife, from chipmunks to vultures. The exceptions: fish and songbirds.
"People think they're helping the situation, but they're really doing the animal a disservice," said Liz Nicholas, a local wildlife rehabber and author of the proposed ordinance, which experts say is the first of its kind statewide and one of scores across the nation.
"Once you start feeding animals, the predator-and-prey thing changes," Nicholas said. "The rat population explodes because you're feeding the fox, and they're not hunting the rats. People need to understand they've survived this long on their own."
But the proposed law, which has undergone dozens of revisions since it was introduced in March after a rash of feedings, has stirred debate in this Gwinnett County municipality of 2,000.
Proponents argue the ordinance would break the animals' dependence on artificial food sources and curb potentially dangerous encounters between animals and residents, such as the recent fox attacks in Kennesaw. But opponents contend the proposal is too restrictive -- or unnecessary altogether.
"Ducks and geese, why not feed them?" said Kitty Dales, who has lived in Berkeley Lake since 1965. "People naturally want to feed the animals, within reason. I don't want to feed a red fox running down the road, but to make it illegal? I don't go along with that."
Countered 16-year resident Nick Lore: "I have a heart for people who do this, but it's not good for our ecology. White bread is unhealthy for us. It's unhealthy for animals as well."
With its 88-acre lake, 73 acres of protected green space and tall trees stretching throughout the 1-square-mile community, Berkeley Lake is a natural haven for all kinds of critters. But the recent feedings, coupled with the concrete expansion along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, have made the animals increasingly cozy in this affluent community nestled between Norcross and Duluth.
Now, locals say, bread-accustomed geese have refused to migrate and littered the banks of the lake with dung the size of dog feces. Deer dart about on roadways and in residents' yards foraging for corn. And red foxes trot down Lakeshore Drive in broad daylight to hunt or find people who conveniently leave out apples and cat food.
"Urban wildlife is a constant, and it's never going to change," said Michael Ellis, director of Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort, a nonprofit working to preserve and restore wildlife. "You just never want a wild animal to be comfortable with people. The last thing you want is to have a hawk or an owl or a fox to walk up to someone and ask for a handout."
For help with the wording of the ordinance, the city turned to the state's Department of Natural Resources. Georgia currently outlaws the feeding of just two animals: alligators and bears.
John Bowers, assistant chief of game management, said more than 100 municipalities nationwide have ordinances similar to the one Berkeley Lake is considering. But the department doesn't track such ordinances statewide, he said, so he couldn't even guess whether other cities have similar feeding restrictions.
Said William Moore, president of the Georgia chapter of the Wildlife Society: "I don't know of any other city in the state that has this [law]. I wish more did."
But for Mickey Merkel, a 15-year resident and head of the Berkeley Lake Conservancy, the ordinance is simply out of line.
"I like the fact that the deer come up at night and eat out of the bird feeder," she said. "Am I going to be fined for that?"
Mayor Lois Salter, who has heard conflicting views citywide, said the City Council is expected to vote on the matter July 15.
"All these animals are huddling in our city because everything else is turning into concrete," Salter said. "Everybody shares the joy in that. It's just a disagreement on how best to help the animals."
The proposed ordinance
- What it would outlaw: Feeding of animals such as beavers, bobcats, chipmunks, coyotes, deer, ducks, foxes, geese, groundhogs, hawks, muskrats, opossums, otters, raccoons, squirrels and vultures.
- What it would exclude: Fish and songbirds
- Areas covered: Public and private property in the city
- Penalties: First-time violators would receive a warning. Each additional violation is subject to a fine not to exceed $1,000.
- Enforcement: The city's ordinance enforcement officer would issue citations.
Co-existing with wildlife
- If a wild animal gets too close, scare it away by waving your hands, yelling or throwing something in its direction.
- Never allow small children or pets to go outside alone or unattended, especially at dawn or dusk.
- Do not feed pets outside. The smell of pet food will attract wildlife.
- Just put enough bird feed out for one day. Source: Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort, www.awareone.org
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