The issue of feeding local wildlife has recently attracted controversy in Flagstaff, as some residents of Continental Country Club are leaving buckets of feed out for the deer and elk herds that reside in the neighborhood.
In 2013, Flagstaff City Council established an Ordinance, 2013-20, commonly known as the Wildlife Feeding Ordinance, which strictly prohibits feeding wildlife with the exception of birds.
Despite the ordinance being put in place, some residents of the Continental Country Club continue to feed the deer.
At the recent Sept. 4 City Council meeting earlier this month, the council once again found themselves discussing this issue.
Chris Shields, the general manager of Continental Country Club, stated the club does not condone the act of feeding animals and urged residents to avoid the behavior.
“In our opinion, it doesn’t promote safety to have people feeding the deer especially. We’ve had a number of reports from people, people’s dogs being attacked, humans that have gotten too close to them when they have their fawns with them and the fawns are eating. It’s a safety issue, first and foremost,” said Shields in a phone interview.
While some residents say the animals are not aggressive, Shields explained the country club has had multiple cases of reported aggressive wildlife in the past.
One such incident involved a homeowner’s dogs, as they were on the deer’s feeding area and were chased off by the hungry wildlife.
Shelley Shepherd, public information officer for Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), shared the same views as Shields when it came to feeding wildlife and supported the ordinance. She explained this is a state-wide problem involving more than just deer and elk.
In February, there were two issues with an elderly man and an elderly woman with separate communities that were feeding wild javelina. Both subjects were bitten, resulting in AZGFD hiring Wildlife Services to lethally remove around 15 javelinas from the neighborhoods as a result of the attacks.
“By feeding them you’re not helping [the animals] at all, you’re hurting them. And in some cases, they end up dying from the result of the unhealthy food, the behaviors or do they get removed,” said Shepherd in a phone interview.
Shepherd expanded on the importance of this and stated that there are reasonable and unreasonable feeding practices, as well as intentional and unintentional feeding.
An example of reasonable feeding is defined as a bird feeder or hummingbird feeder hung at least 4 feet off of the ground. Unreasonable feeding is troughs and buckets of food for deer and elk. She defined intentional feeding as purposely feeding animals and unintentional feeding as plants and trees growing on a property that animals happen to eat.
Shepard didn’t want to discourage people from feeding birds, but stressed that residents should keep their wildlife feeding to that.
“When we start seeing somebody putting out big blocks of seed or big feeding troughs, you never know what you’re going to get. For the most part, squirrels and birds and whatnot are safe, especially when gathered in large numbers,” Shepherd said in a phone interview. “It’s when some of the other smaller mammals come in concentrations that we are going to see predators come in including bobcats, coyotes and foxes.”
At the Sept. 4 meeting, some residents attempted to convince City Council to repeal 2013-20, while others along with AZGFD argued to retain the ordinance and even do more to enforce it.
Tim Holt, a field supervisor for AZGFD, also spoke at the meeting and explained the ordinance was put in place for safety reasons. He stated that feeding these animals puts the animals and people at risk. The ordinance was aimed mostly at larger wildlife to protect the animal’s health and public safety. He further explained this information was backed up by published research.
“When you concentrate wildlife, the research has shown that there’s a higher prevalence of disease among those wildlife, and that can lead to localized and sometimes catastrophic population level die-outs of wildlife, particularly deer and elk,” said Holt at the Sept. 4 meeting.
He added that when animals become used to humans feeding them, they can lose their fear and approach people who may not want to actually interact with them. He cited a recent case at the Grand Canyon where a woman was attacked by an elk that was trying to eat her sandwich.
Robert McDonald, a resident of the Continental Country Club, told the council why he supported the ordinance.
“It’s unhealthy and sometimes deadly for deer and elk to be fed unnatural feed and be concentrated as the Game and Fish representative just stated,” said McDonald at the Sept. 4 meeting.
While some supported the ordinance and saw it as an important part of keeping both residents and the animals themselves healthy and safe, others argued the ordinance is unnecessary and that there is no risk within the community.
Some of the local residents at the Sept. 4 meeting who have lived in Continental Country Club said the animals are calm and feel safe in the neighborhood. They claimed there wasn’t any real danger of aggression from the deer and elk.
Others agreed, claiming the animals were far from aggressive and the problem was a residential conflict concerning the ordinance itself, not with the animals.
Joe Farnsworth, another resident of Continental, told the council why he planned to continue to feed the deer and elk no matter what.
“My whole premise in this issue is religious. I am a strong Christian, so I believe the Bible in its entirety,” said Farnsworth at the Sept. 4 meeting. “When God made man, he gave us dominion over these animals. He didn’t say Game and Fish.”
While some animals have been domesticated, like dogs and cats, there are still wild animals that despite seeming docile have not been tamed and can attack when they feel threatened. The issue is still ongoing, residents are encouraged to adhear to local ordinances.