Tossing a tasty morsel to a goose or a squirrel may seem like a nice thing to do, but the repercussions can be detrimental. So San Francisco’s animal watchdogs want The City to consider fining people who violate its ban on such feasts.
Feeding wild animals can lead to rat infestations, population imbalances, aggressive behavior and debilitating dependency issues, according to Pam Hemphill, a member of the Commission of Animal Control and Welfare, a local advisory group. Pigeon populations explode because of such repasts — requiring eventual eradication — and squirrels claw at or climb atop park-dwellers because of their dependencies, Hemphill said.
Although two city ordinances currently ban feeding wild animals and birds, enforcement of the statutes is minimal, public signage advising against such acts is lacking and education about the dangers of the practice is essentially absent, she said.
“This is really an education issue,” Hemphill said. “We need to clearly illustrate the problems with feeding wild animals.”
Increasing signage around popular feeding areas such as Stow Lake and Aquatic Park is one possible option. Amending existing statutes to make the ban against feeding wild animals more clear is another option, said Philip Gerrie, another commission member.
Imposing fines on people who habitually ignore those laws would be yet another option. Currently, residents can be penalized $187 for illegally feeding the wildlife, but Gerrie said he rarely hears about anyone actually getting fined.
“People face these very stiff fines for not picking up their dog’s poop on public property,” he said. “But you see people feeding animals all the time without any sort of repercussions. If people are actually fined, you may see some change in behavior.”
Gerrie, who said he was prompted to explore this issue after hearing about a raccoon attacking a dog near the Palace of Fine Arts, said it’s ultimately up to the Board of Supervisors to pursue harsher penalties for people who feed wild animals. The welfare commission can only make recommendations, and Gerrie said that increased enforcement and the levying of fines should be included in that discussion. The commission will meet Thursday to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, the Recreation and Park Department, which manages more than 200 public open spaces throughout The City, including Golden Gate Park, is taking its first step to addressing this issue by embarking on an education campaign about how to co-exist with the local wildlife, spokeswoman Connie Chan said. As part of that initiative, the department will introduce signs in multiple languages advising park-goers that feeding the wildlife is harmful to both humans and animals.