By Sabina Mollot
Animal lovers who enjoy feeding the squirrels and birds in this city should do so quickly, because soon it won’t be allowed in the places where the aforementioned animals congregate.
As of April 1, it will be against the rules to feed the wildlife in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village. Additionally, the city’s mulling of a plan for a full wildlife feeding ban in parks has gained steam, with a spokesperson telling Town & Village it’s expected to go into place this summer.
As for the Stuy Town policy, this new rule comes after management conducted a resident survey on the subject (as well as dog-related policies for pet owners) last summer. Then, last Thursday, StuyTown Property Services made sure to remind tenants of the soon to come ban in its weekly e-blast, and the reason for it.
This was “due to several incidents involving resident children being bitten by squirrels.”
Asked how management intends to enforce the new policy, general manager Rick Hayduk told T&V that public safety officers will enforce it as they have been with rules relating to bikes or dogs.
“When caught, the offender will be further informed of the rule and if necessary, a notice of lease violation will be issued,” Hayduk said. “If found the offender is a non-resident, they will be escorted off the property.”
Feeding the birds and squirrels has been a Stuy Town tradition over the decades, though critics have argued this has made the critters aggressive to the point of rifling through strollers and garbage cans in their efforts to find a meal.
The city’s Parks Department has said the same, that squirrel feeding has contributed to aggressive behavior and an increase in rats. Last summer, the Madison Square Park Conservancy begged park goers to stop feeding the squirrels, saying it has led to over-breeding, which in turn damaged the park’s tree canopy due to the squirrels’ incessant gnawing.
Like in Stuy Town, Parks spokesperson Meghan Lalor that the first step in enacting the ban will be to try to remind park goers seen feeding the birds and squirrels that this is against the rules. Though not yet a done deal the ban is currently being reviewed by the city’s law department and is expected to be enacted, Lawlor said. At this time there is already a ban on feeding wildlife in parks though birds and squirrels have always been the exception.
Once it is officials, feeders could face a $50 summons. But, Lawlor said, “We only ticket when necessary.”
She added, “We think all New Yorkers should be healthy eaters, including our wildlife. But, food left on the ground is an open invitation for rodents to congregate for a free meal. This amendment will help to clarify the rules, and keep our parks safe and clean.”
Town & Village first reported on the proposed ban in January and on March 1, the Parks Department held a hearing on the subject. Since then the issue has picked up steam in the media due to the ban ruffling the feathers of fans of birds and squirrels. On Friday, the New York Post reported that a change.org petition against the ban has gotten over 4,500 signatures and that 30 people had attended a demonstration, while shouting, “Squirrels are New Yorkers too!”
One such advocate, squirrel feeder and rescuer Bernie Goetz, told T&V he was concerned about the future of the city’s squirrel population.
“The situation is dismal,” said Goetz. “Why not say, ‘Let’s not feed the homeless? There’ll be less homeless.’” He also dismissed the argument about attracting rats, saying the rodent problem shouldn’t, at least entirely, be blamed on wildlife feeders.
Goetz, who lives in Union Square, frequently visits the park as well as Stuy Town and Peter Cooper to feed and check on the squirrels. In his view, the critters need a helping human hand, especially in the winter.
Because, he explained, trees have been steadily getting thinned out in Union Square Park over the years as well as in Stuy Town, in the latter case for security reasons a decade ago.
“They need a thick forest for a natural food supply, nuts and berries,” said Goetz, of the squirrels. “Squirrels were here when people came here and built a city around them and people have eliminated the food supply. So if you want to have the squirrels in the city, people should fill the void.”
Meanwhile, in upstate New York, wildlife feeding has also had unintended consequences. On Monday, the Department of Environmental Conservation implored residents to take down bird feeders as they’ve been attracting black bears.
“DEC has already received several reports that bears are knocking down bird feeders to eat the seed,” the department said in an official statement. “Feeding bears either intentionally, which is illegal, or unintentionally through careless practices around properties, has consequences for entire communities. People should take down bird feeders by April 1, store garbage inside secure buildings, and feed pets indoors.”