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Ban on feeding wildlife advances in Palo Alto

Original post made on Aug 28, 2013

Feeding the ducks in the Palo Alto Baylands was once a popular local pastime, as common as hiking in the foothills or hacking a server. Now, with animals growing more aggressive, the city is preparing to ban the feeding of wildlife and feral cats in all city parks and open space preserves.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 11:17 PM

Comments (37)

Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2013 at 7:31 am

Thank you to the Parks and Open Space Commission for supporting this proposed ordinance. Wildlife and those of us humans that try to protect them applaud your efforts.

Posted by Marco Graziano, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

A completely irrational decision based on non existing facts. Birds live and die like any other animal. They prey and are predated like it happens in nature. An healthy bird is not an easy pray for a cat. The best chance for capture is when the bird is on the ground which can very well happen because it is injured after hitting a window or sick and would not survive anyway. It has been reported that up to two billion birds a year get injured by hitting a window. Also, disease is a major source of mortality for birds and may be the underlying cause of death in many cases of cats predation. The spread of diseases like West Nile Virus is very significant killer for many bird species and birds get sick of other avian diseases. I have read that ten billion birds die every year. I do not hear in the arguments of the commission any of these factors to be taken in consideration. In other words cats captures in the majority of cases can very well be the result of an opportunity presented by an injured or sick bird that cannot be counted as a valid cause of death.

More importantly, why is the commission competent on deciding who lives and die in the streets of our city? This is total nonsense and if there is a species that has lived with humans in cities and elsewhere since homo sapiens, that is most certainly the small felines. By the way, in all European cities cats and birds coexist very well, and a lot of cities support feline colonies, why we should be different?

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 28, 2013 at 9:27 am

Most people don't visit the Baylands, so claims by City employees are always suspicious. Why not video the problems and post the video on the City's web-site? That way, the City Staff could make their case with pictures, audio, and walk-about, rather than their typical "trust me" approach to describing problems that may, or may not, exist?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2013 at 10:01 am

We are talking about two different scenarios here.

In our local city parks, wildlife stealing food (admittedly left by clumsy food management practices) is the big problem. Squirrels and crows are quick and it takes a lot of diligence to prevent them getting hold of human food.

The duckpond is different altogether. For eons, families have traditionally enjoyed feeding ducks at duckponds all over the world. It has become a problem because migratory birds are not following their patterns of behavior because of the abundance of food. This in turn is leading to the aggressive behavior and the inability of fat birds to fly or the influx of birds who come for the free pickings.

Palo Alto duckpond is only part of the story. All along the Baylands, people enjoy feeding ducks and many communities are having problems. Those that feed the ducks in Palo Alto may not be just Palo Alto residents, but from other cities and I do not mean just EPA. Mountain View has problems at Shoreline also and in fact it is worse in an area where people partake in watersports on the lake.

Dealing with the city parks issue has to be done by Palo Alto, but the bigger problem has to be regional. Wildlife don't see our manmade borders, they just see an abundance of food. This is something for the SF Bay administrators to work on with the help of each individual city.

Posted by Hungry, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 28, 2013 at 10:31 am

Don't feed the Homeless...Don't feed the ducks...Don't feed the Cats...Who and What does Palo Alto feed?

Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 28, 2013 at 10:44 am

Right on about the ban on feeding wildlife! Even 25 years ago, the Duck Pond was a mess due to overfeeding, and a filthy place to visit.

However, I respectfully disagree about feral cat feeding. UNLESS the problem is that such feeding attracts coyotes, foxes, or worse, raccoons. I'd like to see more study on that point. Are there feral cats in the baylands? Is the TNR (trap, neuter, release) protocol being followed?

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Mountain View has had a no feeding the birds policy at Shoreline Park for many years. I don't know enough about the affects on the ecosystem to say whether it is good or bad. For certain the Palo Alto duck pond attracts waterfowl.

In the Central Valley there are several wildlife refuges where waterfowl gather in huge numbers in the winter
( Web Link )
Each evening they fly out of the refuge in search of food because the flooded areas where they spend the day can not support the population.

California has areas with even denser populations of waterfowl than the duck pond. These wildlife areas are not considered something that has to be eliminated.

The evening flight out of the wildlife area can be amazing. Hundreds or thousands of birds taking flight at almost the same time.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside
on Aug 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Just another rule to ignore.... thanks to the ninnys in government.

Posted by at first..., a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm

So I have to get rid of my hummingbird feeder?

Posted by anon, a resident of Monroe Park
on Aug 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm

The water at the duck pond is often rank looking and smelling due to the debris from the feeding and the concentration of the birds in a small area. I hope the ban on feeding passes. Children can enjoy birds without getting mobbed by them.

The feral cats in the baylands - often quite visible at dawn and dusk - prey on ground nesting birds, which are perfectly healthy, contrary to the claim above that cats are only killing old and injured birds. Too many people release their no longer wanted cats there. Feeding them does not prevent them from killing some of the birds, mice, snakes, lizards etc that naturally occur there.

And for those who say that nobody goes there, take a trip down there sometime yourself. Take a walk out the levee by Charleston Slough. (at the end of San Antonio) It's particularly lovely at the end of the day - and a good place to cool off in hot weather.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 28, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Does this mean I can't keep the 7 racoons in my backyard?

Posted by reine, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 28, 2013 at 3:43 pm

It is very sad that the commission dumped all issues together (duck pond, baylands, feral cats) and instead of searching for an appropriate solution for each case, they followed a mantra from birds societies that cats are predators, therefore bad, and stopping feeding is the answer. Or is it? All of us want to protect the birds, clean the pond, all of us agree that the baylands is not a place for cats. Absolutely not.
It is very unfortunate that people abandon animals in such areas, we don't know who are the other people who put food there. May be talking with animal services should be the first stop. The commission did NOT contact animal services.
We are not aware of any cat problem in any other city park.
Typically Palo Alto Humane society and associated rescue groups get calls from citizens who find stray cats/kittens in their backyard or at the company parking lots. We go anchor the cats with food, trap them, neuter/vaccinate/treat them, in exchange for the promise the cats will be maintained with clean food at the same place, so that there will be no further roaming around. Diseased cats are removed,
kittens are put in foster homes, if possible. This is why, with the help of Palo Alto animal services, Palo Alto has a CLEAN city.
But the commissioners have NO interest in our work, neither do they have an alternate plan how do deal with feral cats (often tame cats abandoned by people who moved away...). So sad. It they were to extend this ban any further (in a phase two), well folks, we could not continue our volunteer work and you may end up a city inundated with starving sick cats who may contaminate your own pussycat.

Posted by Heartless, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm

The understanding that feeding wildlife is prohibited is understandable, this most standard at all national parks when visiting, so i understand this request and so would our children if educated properly. However, the starving of ferrel felines raises another issue. It also is understandable that we do not want cats eating the wildlife at our reserves, But if you read the article the starvation in hopes of slowly in humanly killing cats is okay. And this measurement would not just affect the cats at the Bay lands. Unfortunately, there are quite a few places in Palo Alto where ignorant people dump there cats and therefore these designated areas in which volunteers who spend their own money on cat food and try to make shift plastic homes for ferrel cats in the winter, when temperatures drop to freezing and rain storms hit our city. These volunteers will receive a $250.00 fine for trying to take care of someone's else pet not too mention the idea of having to kill numerous kittens and adult cats. There needs to be a solution other than SLOWLY AND INHUMANLY STARVING KITTENS AND CATS TOO DEATH??????????? Another solution please.

Posted by Good Feral Cats, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Feeders of feral cats know how much food to put out. We don't want it drawing critters in, and the feeders don't want to waste food and money. It really does work.

Posted by SABunny, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Crommie is wrong. Palo Alto Humane Society has been helping all kinds of animals for over 100 years, not only dogs and cats.
While it is true that birds need to be protected from feral cats, I'm astounded that the majority of the Council is so dismissive toward our city's Humane Society regarding this issue.

Posted by Cat Mom Leonorilda, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Thank you to Reine and SABunny for your keen understanding of the issues. It is amazing how secretively the recommendations were compiled by this commission and city staff with absolutely no input from animal welfare groups coupled with a total disregard and blatant dismissal of offers to contribute to the law-making process in a civilized, democratic fashion. Thank you to commissioner Ashlund for understanding that need for broad participation as well as the equally pressing need to care for all the animals involved in the equation. How can city staff so blatantly disregard and dismiss the experience and expertise of local animal welfare groups? Is this how city government works in Palo Alto? So saddened by all this, and even sadder for some of the animals who ARE in the equation and who will suffer!

Posted by litebug, a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2013 at 12:10 am

(former 38 year resident)
Seems like soon no person or animal will be quite good enough to be allowed to live in Palo Alto for one reason or another. Only a very few selected humans will be tolerated, the rest are to be run out of town or starved to death. No one who isn't well off will be allowed to live in Palo Alto because they have cooties.

I'm sure glad I moved away when I read stuff like this. The other day it was "pick on the homeless" day again and now it's "pick on feral cats day". Why not have a "pick on commissioners" day for a change? Starve 'em out!

To lump the feeding of ducks with feral cat control is ridiculous. Starving animals is NOT humane or even civilized.

The whole town seems to be increasingly sociopathic in orientation. Why not rename the pond "The Ayn Rand Duckless Pond" and then not allow any ducks to land, live, breed or eat there because they are just "takers" and a drain on society.

Posted by mark, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 29, 2013 at 1:40 am

It is ridiculous that bans like this and the recent no sleeping in cars gain any traction given the outspoken minority that supports them, the joy they bring some people, and the lack of minimal negative effects they have. I know a lot about ecology at the baylands here, and thing feeding the ducks has a negligible effect on the baylands environment as a whole. If anything, it increases the endangered fox populations, and these do not prey on the prized salt-marsh mouse.

If you get rid of duck-feeding at the baylands, that area will lose a lot of publicity and a lot of childhood memories will go unmade. That place is partially what made me get into conservation today.

Feeding a coyote is a whole different level, and I highly suspect that not a single person in palo alto has advertently fed one. Coyotes are extremely timid around humans. And if Daren anderson is really going to argue that feeding frenzies cause stress and injuries... then maybe he/she shouldn't be a biologist. Natural selection, without a human food source would cause twice the stress and injuries. Just ridiculous. Props to Stacey Ashlund for having a brain. God bless.

As a long time resident I have not been particularly involved with palo alto politics but someone please tell me where to sign to oust these commissioners and I will sign it and recruit some more.

Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2013 at 10:17 am

The argument that the animal feeding issue should be broken a part into segment (IE: duck pond, cats, foxes, coyotes, etc.) is like separating out humans by race or job title. THIS IS A LINKED ISSUE. The waterfowl at Baylands ARE adversely affected by the 'animal lovers' that dump hundreds of pounds of refined human food every day to 'save the ducks, geese, gulls and pigeons from starving'. This refined human food full of preservatives and additives with poor nutritional value which is slowly but surely poisoning these birds. Outbreaks of avian disease are directly linked to the human fed birds in a very small area (duckpond) consuming human food deposited on the poop covered walkways and parking lots around the duckpond. Cat lovers insistent on feeding feral cats in the Baylands ARE contributing to decline of the avian population in this aquatic ecosystem. These unvaccinated feral cats poop in the Baylands, and their diseased containing waste washes into the waterways polluting the habitat for an abundance of waterfowl and aquatic life.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2013 at 10:22 am

We have been invaded by black crows in our neighborhoods that never used to be here, they are aggressive and have even attacked my groceries as I have been unpacking my car.

How can we get rid of them?

Posted by Its entertainment, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2013 at 11:02 am

I thought the staff presentation was intelligent, well informed and not full of government gobbledygook like other staff presentations.
The idea that not feeding the ducks is cruel is sentimental rubbish.
Feeding the ducks is for your entertainment, not for the benefit of the ducks.
And you don't have to clean up the huge amount of excrement, they do. Please respond to this problem. Are you volunteering to do it?

Posted by DC, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2013 at 11:45 am

Bravo, Wayne Martin. Excellent idea!! I would love to be able to take a look at our duck pond from home, and the city/wildlife folks would obtain valuable information. Simple and efficient. Could even be streamed into schools for ongoing environmental studies? Perhaps Stanford, with the record amount of donations this year, could fund the project thru their science/engineering/other departments via city partnerships?

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Instead of going to the Bank of Stanford, try one of the big software companies this time -- maybe the big one located near the Baylands?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Why is not feeding wildlife such a contentious issue? Sure, feeding the ducks at the duckpond when I was a kid was a fun pastime, but things change...

Posted by Jesus People, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I was parked at the Baylands and this guy starts feeding seagulls with bread crumbs and the next thing I know my car is covered in seagull sh*t.

Posted by catfriend, a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Jesus People is a tough act to follow.
In the Middle Ages, people were afraid of cats and witches and such. No cats and the rats took over. Brought the Black Death with them. Better watch it, Palo Alto!!
Seriously, your choice is between healthy, fed, vaccinated, altered, monitored feral cats, or breeding, sick, hungry, unvaccinated feral cats. Face it, feral cats are a fact of life. Take your pick. Work with the feral cat rescue groups who know what they are doing and can educate you a little.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2013 at 9:36 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2013 at 10:16 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2013 at 10:24 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by litebug, a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2013 at 1:58 am

Former resident...

Here's an idea:
Employ a few of the unemployed homeless people to monitor the duck pond area to ensure compliance with establshed and posted rules, including those prohibiting feeding of the waterfowl with anything other than approved food, which would be available via dispensers for a nominal fee. I've been at places where one could feed the animals but only with the approved food. And the city gets the revenue from the sale of the food and that would help offset the cost of the new employees. The people could also keep the area clean, become trained to answer questions about the birds, and possibly assume some other duties if needed.

Posted by Too Many Cats, a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 30, 2013 at 2:31 am

Are feral cats pets or wild animals? If pets, then adopt them!

If wild animals, then trap & spay and leave them alone! If there is not enough food to support them (mice, rats, birds, etc), then they will move along until they find it. If they can't find it, then they die. That's nature. That's balance.

Artificially supporting these wild animals by feeding them is unnatural and creating an imbalance. The ferals bunch up and when bird hatching season comes, they wipe them out. Having fewer ferals out there means having more birds. Balance.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

The following couple of short Youtube videos offers us a snapshot view of the "problem" here:

Web Link

Web Link

While I would like to see the City use digital technology, and the Internet, more effectively than they currently do, these two videos call into question various claims about how bad things are in/around the duck pond because people are allowed to feed the birds.

It seems really silly to criminalize the actions of the little girl in the first video. How many of us did the exact same thing when we were her age?

It seems to me that there has not been sufficient work done by Staff to demonstrate that a real problem exists, or that criminalizing feeding these critters is the solution to this problem.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2013 at 11:08 am

Yeah, no one's going to "criminalize the actions of the little girl." How'd the little girl get there? Did she steal a car? No, she'll be w/adults who aren't following the posted rules. This is not rocket surgery. Not feeding wildlife is a common rule in so many places, to be allowed to feed them would be the exception. It's pretty easy - just don't feed them. It's hard to teach little kids that it's not all about them, but you have to start somewhere. Then, set up bird feeders at home if you want to feed wildlife AND stick it to The Man.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

What a joke... I've had to work in this sad excuse of a city for over 30 years and this just takes another piece of the cake for stupidity. A $250 fine for feeding ducks or feral cats... once again Palo Alto has become the laughing stock for the rest of the civilized world. I'm just glad that at the end of the day I can go home to a real city but it still disgusts me to even have to drive through this town. Take about taking things too far... another stupid ban that makes the so-called 'city council' feel like they're 'real' politicians. I hope those feral cats continue to be fed and Palo Alto can take their ban and shove it where the sun don't shine.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2013 at 1:27 pm

> No, she'll be w/adults who aren't following the posted rules.

Maybe. I assume that your "not rocket science" answer includes teenage baby siters who ride bikes to the bayland, or foreign citizens working as "nannies", who might not think to read the signs. Or visitors from other countries. Do you really think that they are going to pay off that ticket, or just move on to their next destination--having torn up the ticket?
And then there are grandparents, who might well be here legally, or illegally, and who might not speak English ..

Who will enforce this new ordinance? Should we call 911, or will ticketing scoff-laws be at the discretion of the local park rangers?

But more to the point--what is the problem here? And why do we need to criminalize this behavior to solve that problem?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I'm sure that people won't be ticket unless someone in authority is there to give tickets. Ergo, not a lot of tickets given out. As for future scofflaws, who knows? It depends on how the ticketing is done. If it's anything like other tickets given by a ranger, they do check ID. And I said "rocket surgery", not rocket science.

Since people have been feeding those ducks for so long & it's a bad idea to do so, it'll take some big "re-education" to get them to stop doing it. It's a good opportunity to educate people who may not realize the harm that they're doing.

All sorts of things are "criminalized" but the authorities rarely do anything about it - littering, offleash pets, dumping pets, feeding wildlife, etc.

Posted by Not rocket science, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 31, 2013 at 2:16 pm

What's so hard bout learning not to feed animals? It's bad for them. I did it years ago, now I know it isn't a good idea.
Are people really so stupid that they can't figure this out?

Wayne Martin's threat about criminalizing a little girl is reductio ad absurdum. He pushes an argument until it makes no sense.

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