Council approves ban on feeding deer, other wildlife

Ocean Shores has amended its nuisances ordinance with new language intended to “eliminate the feeding of deer and other wild animals within the city limits.”

By a 5-1 City Council vote — with members Holly Plackett voting no and Susan Conniry abstaining — the city now declares it a public nuisance to “feed wild deer, elk, coyotes, cougars, bears, opossums, raccoons, river otters, rats or bats.”

The decision came after several years of debate and city discussion over the issue of feeding the multiplying number of deer on the peninsula, with previous testimony about the damage it causes to the animals from a state Fish and Wildlife expert, and recent facts presented to the council, such as that there were 132 dead deer handled by city Public Works last year.

The vote also followed a public comment period in which about a dozen people spoke in favor of the new measure, and others who wanted to revise it or questioned if it was going too far. Another issue was how it would be enforced.

Council member Lisa Griebel introduced the new ordinance language (Ocean Shores Municipal Code Chapter 8.32.020), which she said stems from a petition signed by about 200 people urging the city to try to prevent people from feeding the deer.

Griebel referenced the testimony in 2017 from Scott Harris, the Fish and Wildlife biologist, whose thesis was “that wildlife feeding threatens humans, pets and our wildlife.”

“He did talk about two problems that occur when feeding wildlife within city limits — habituation and concentration,” Griebel said.

“Habituation is when wild animals become used to humans. And concentration means that when you feed them, you get more of that type of wildlife in one area. Complicating that in Ocean Shores is our lack of hunting and the lack of many predators,” Griebel said.

The concentration of deer also can result in the number of vehicle/deer accidents, and there is the potential of the spread of disease, as well as the impact it has on neighbors, she added.

The ordinance language states the city has found a “high incidence of illness caused by feeding deer.”

Resident Alex Suarez was the first member of the public to speak before the vote, and she said her goal was to protect the deer: “And the best way to protect them is to not feed them.” However, she questioned if such a policy would also apply to bird feeders.

Mayor Crystal Dingler noted that birds were not included in the language that listed the specific animals off-limits to human feeding.

Marlene Penry said she was in favor of the amended ordinance, but also wanted to clarify the definition of what it applied to: “There is no way you can possibly list every possible animal that is in Ocean Shores. For example, we can’t feed river otters. I guess we can feed beavers. We can’t feed rats, but gee I guess that means I can feed mice.” Penry predicted that people who want to feed the animals will still try to get around the city law.

Another resident, Joan Richmond, suggested the deer should be seen as a positive tourist attraction that could be managed and advertised as “Ocean Shores deer haven.” “The deer are here to stay,” she said.

The deer should be treated as “wild animals, not pets. It is imperative the citizens do not feed deer or any other wild animal,” said Sushila Revard, who is one of the founders of the Garden By the Sea community garden. She said that even feeding birds can disturb their migration patterns.

Shannon Rubin also questioned how such a ban on feeding would be enforced: “Whether you love the deer or you hate the deer, the very real problem is that tourists that come to town love the deer.”

Several questions also were raised about how residents and tourists alike would be informed, whether there would be signage, and what the penalties might be. “I’m not a deer feeder myself, but I see it every day,” said Rubin, manager of the Canterbury Inn.

David Linn also said he “completely agrees” with the proposal: “To me, it’s more important that we have healthy deer than amuse a few human beings.”

Plackett, who was not present in person at the meeting but joined by speaker phone, questioned why the feeding ban “had come to us in an ordinance so quickly?” She wanted to propose an alternative solution to “discourage wildlife feeding” through public notification efforts: “Do an educational piece for our citizens for a while.”

Plackett and Conniry both questioned if the goal was to reduce the overall deer population.

“One of the issues I’m hearing from so many people asking us to pass the ordinance is that we have too many deer, but this ordinance is not addressing the fact that we have too many deer,” Conniry said, adding: “We need to address this completely, rather than just the feeding.”

Council member Bob Peterson advocating passing the proposal as written as a first step, followed by singage, and then look at how to control the number: “We have sat on this for way too long. I think it should move forward and we ought to vote on it tonight.”

In addition to Griebel and Peterson, Steven Ensley, Jon Martin and Diane Solem all voted for the amended ordinance.