By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
The message: don’t feed the wildlife, may seem simple enough but how to enforce it is the real question.
The Los Alamos Police Department is proposing one solution: a draft ordinance. This ordinance, along with revisions to Chapter 6 of the Los Alamos County Code, which focuses on animal control, were presented for the community’s input during a town hall meeting Monday, Nov. 13.
Police Chief Dino Sgambellone said both draft ordinances will be introduced during the Nov. 28 County Council meeting and a public hearing will be held on the ordinances Dec. 12. Additionally, he said the public is encouraged to submit feedback on the proposed ordinances through Dec. 7. Input may be submitted at lacnm.com/AnimalOrdinance.
Chief Sgambellone discussed what the ordinances propose. The ordinance that would prohibit feeding wildlife cites the numerous consequences of doing so, which include damages property, interrupts migration patterns, encourages aggressive behavior, causes nutritional problems and promotes the spread of diseases.
As a result, the ordinance forbids feeding of any wildlife or waterfowl and violators would be fined no less than $25 and no more than $100 for the first incidence, and no less than $100 and no more than $500 for any subsequent violations.
It is noted in the ordinance that the feeding of songbirds and other backyard birds is permitted if the feeder isn’t more than one cubic foot and at least four feet from the ground.
When collecting feedback from the public on this ordinance, one individual wondered about feeding the ducks and geese at Ashley Pond and noted it would be difficult to tell a young child not to feed the ducks human food such as bread.
“We put out on our Facebook recently that we have had duck and geese situations occur more so in the last two years … (we) try to reach out to the community to not feed (the birds) bread, French fries … which causes problems for their overall health and tried to encourage (people to feed the birds) more of what they could eat that is the healthiest for their diet,” Animal Control Officer Theresa Phelan said.
Another individual said she felt the County was focusing on the wrong thing. Instead of prohibiting feeding the wildlife, the County should address the loss of habitat for the wildlife due to the wildfires and draught, she said.
Regarding the revisions to Chapter 6, Chief Sgambellone said revisions include removing a portion of the noise prohibition, namely barking dogs. The part where the dog needs to be continuously barking for 10 minutes was struck out since that is difficult to judge and respond to.
“To have language that is enforceable we needed to make a change in that specific area … so we removed the continuously 10 minutes barking reference,” Sgambellone said.
Another change would be designating Ashley Pond as a wildlife protected area. This would make it unlawful to abandon any animals – whether it is a fish, reptile, bird, etc., at the pond and likewise it would be unlawful to capture, kill, etc., any of the existing animals at the pond.
Participants at the town hall offered feedback on the proposed changes. One person spoke in favor of the wildlife designation for Ashley Pond but suggested installing signs that prohibited fishing at the pond.
Regarding changes to the section about barking dogs, one individual wondered what Animal Control does when responding to a dog barking and the owner isn’t there.
Phelan said they try to contact the pet’s owners, follow up with them and leave door notices about the issue.
“The police department has really stepped up the last few years in helping us respond to the nightly barking calls (to fill in when the animal control is closed) … the police officers have been responding and working with us and sending us emails in the morning to follow up … and then Animal Control follows up,” Phelan added.
Chief Sgambellone said if the proposed changes are approved, education on the newly adopted ordinance would be provided.
Issues of animal welfare – domesticated and wild – have been discussed for several years, Chief Sgambellone said. Revisions to Chapter 6 originated when the animal shelter ad hoc committee made recommendations to council on best practices. He further noted that the code needed to be more aligned with state law. The new ordinance to strike down on feeding the wildlife was drafted after hearing from New Mexico Game and Fish officers. Plus, with the increased populations of wild animals in town, council requested an ordinance to address the issue.