By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Resident bird and squirrel-lovers, beware: a popular park pastime might soon be banned. The Parks Department announced last Friday that the agency will be holding hearings this March on changes to city rules that would prohibit park patrons from feeding birds and squirrels.
The Parks Department will be holding a public hearing on Friday, March 1 for a proposed amendment to the rules regarding feeding animals in parks. The current rules on wildlife feeding don’t specifically ban the feeding of birds and squirrels but under the proposed amendment, feeding all animals in city parks would be prohibited. Under the current rule, feeding all other animals in city parks, including in zoo areas, is not allowed.
The agency said that one of the main reasons for the new rule is to reduce food sources for rats and other rodents as a humane method of pest control.
“Sharing your last slice is generally good etiquette in NYC, unless you’re sharing it with a rat or a squirrel,” a representative for the Parks Department said. “Feeding wildlife in parks creates a mess and is bad for the health of our native wildlife. Through our new policy, we’ll make sure that squirrels, pigeons, and other animals don’t rely on takeout.”
Parks also aims to prevent the transmission of disease that can happen when animals congregate around feeding areas and the ban will help support healthy wildlife nutrition and behavior.
The ban would additionally reduce the maintenance burden on Parks Department staff and would ideally prevent harmful interactions between humans and animals inside city parks.
One resident who publicly commented on the proposed rule said that she is opposed because feeding animals in city parks allows people who can’t have pets to interact with animals.
“New Yorkers love their animals, but not everyone has the financial or spacial means to take care of an animal in their apartment, so feeding the animals in the parks are the only way that some people are able to ‘connect with nature,’” commented Debbi Vigil. “Feeding the animals can be very therapeutic to our mental health. If the animals leave the parks, the parks will be less enjoyable.”
But another resident who identified as a “serious bird watcher” said that he is strongly in favor of the rule.
“Feeding waterfowl is bad for their health and scattering food everywhere attracts rats that the city then has to poison, which harms raptors,” Joshua Malbin said. “Most especially, I hope that NYC Parks enforces such a ban against the feeding stations maintained for dumped and feral cats in many parks, which encourages them to concentrate at high densities and poses a serious danger to wild birds and public health.”
While it’s unclear how much there would be in the way of enforcement by the Parks Enforcement Patrol, summonses can be issued when the rules are violated. The current penalty for the unauthorized feeding of animals is a fine of $50, or $75 if the respondent fails to appear at the hearing.
The proposal comes five months after the Madison Square Park Conservancy begged park goers to stop feeding the squirrels. Doing so, the conservancy argued, has caused squirrels to become more aggressive in their begging and also to multiply to the point where the bloated population of critters has damaged the park’s tree canopy from incessant gnawing.
All comments to the proposed rule can be reviewed on the NYC rules website at rules.cityofnewyork.us. Residents can post their own comments through the website, by email at email@example.com, by faxing comments to (917) 849-6742 or by mailing comments to Darci Frinquelli, Assistant Counsel, The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, The Arsenal, Central Park, 830 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10065.
Comments on the proposed rule can also be given during the hearing and registration is available by calling Frinquelli at (212) 360-1383 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up will be available before the hearing begins and residents can speak for up to three minutes.
Comment submissions will be accepted until the morning of the hearing. The hearing will take place at noon in the NYC Parks hearing room at the Pelham Fritz Recreation Center at 18 Mount Morris Park West in East Harlem.