This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve devoted this column space to the ever-divisive debate on squirrel feeding, but since the rules have just been changed in a big way it seems like an appropriate time to weigh in again.
Firstly we would like to recognize the Parks Department and the management of Stuyvesant Town for waiting until the warmer months to implement a wildlife feeding ban when at least it is easier for squirrels and birds to tap into their natural food sources. After all, Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21 came about because an advocate for the critters felt they had a tougher time finding food on their own in the dead of winter.
The conclusions are mixed even among experts on whether squirrel and bird feeding is helpful or harmful in the long run. And we understand the arguments for a ban as well as for human supplementing of urban animals’ sustenance, too.
Our view on the bans is that they should at least be given a chance to accomplish their goals. In the case of parks, to discourage the proliferation of rats and in the case of Stuy Town and Peter Cooper to truly to end the pattern of aggressive begging that has led to a few children getting bitten or scratched (though we doubt intentionally) by squirrels looking for a meal. As for whether these animals can be expected to break this habit after many decades of domestication we… well we truly don’t know. And we won’t know until we at least give them a chance to remember it’s their instinct to climb trees and collect nuts, not climb through strollers and garbage cans and collect leftover McDonald’s.
Nature is a powerful thing and the squirrels may surprise us by just how little they need our well-intentioned interference. And perhaps never did.
That said, if it seems the squirrel population is suffering after a while from the lack of human help then we reserve the right to revert to our previous view on this issue. That view is that if it seems necessary to feed them then they should be fed, but only in a responsible way.
This means offering nuts and berries, things that are healthy for the wildlife, not bread or other foods that while squirrels and birds might seem grateful to get at the time are actually bad for them. This also means no hand feeding to avoid accidental bites or scratches. And no tossing food and walking away, leaving a mess for someone else to clean or for a rat to enjoy. Any uneaten food should be picked up by the feeder.
That said, we really don’t want to see Parks enforcement Patrol officers or Stuy Town Public Safety Officers issuing summonses to seniors for feeding the wildlife either. What a waste of energy for all involved when there are far more pressing safety and quality of life matters to focus on.
We also hope the city and Stuy Town understand that this would probably be a good time to plant more nut bearing trees.
Food for thought.
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As for that other probably far more major issue this week, congestion pricing, we will wait to comment until it’s been decided how Manhattanites living in the congestion zone will be impacted, since the Devil is always in the details. And those have yet to be determined.