HOST INTRO: New York City is looking at a new measure to keep its parks safer and cleaner with a proposed ban on feeding all animals. But the idea has drawn widespread concern from avid bird watchers and animal activists alike who gathered today at a public hearing in Harlem to voice their concerns. Sophia Ahmadi reports.
Bird sounds fade in
AHMADI 1: Arthur Tenenholtz is an avid birder and he comes to Central Park a lot.
TENENHOLTZ 1: Uh, let’s see I wasn’t here Sunday, oh I was here Sunday, I wasn’t here Monday, so I was here Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and I’ll be back again either Saturday or Sunday.
AHMADI 2: But he’s here to watch not feed the birds. He’s standing in the Ramble holding a pair of black binoculars watching the birds pecking away at the feeders. He says that birds shouldn’t be fed human food, like bread and cereal.
TENENHOLTZ 2: Ducklings should not be fed crumbs of bread and such because they need to look for their own protein sources and if they rely on people feeding them this kind of carbohydrate rich food, their wings do not develop, they become angel birds, they’re stuck in the park, they can’t fly away.
AHMADI 3: There’s another problem. The food attracts what he says are pests.
TENENHOLTZ 3: Raccoons are very filthy creatures and Canada geese are just tremendously, too many of them, they poop all over the place and scare off other birds.
AHMADI 4: And this is where the city’s parks’ department agrees, there’s a problem. Under the current rules, the feeding of all animals except squirrels and birds is prohibited. But after increasing rat infestations and disease scares new measures are being proposed to eliminate feeding animals in parks entirely. Those who continue to do so could face fines of up to $50. And that’s got some New Yorkers upset.
LEE 1: Not only am I an activist, but I’m also an internationally known pigeon criminal.
AHMADI 5: That’s Margaret Lee who has been feeding animals in Washington Square Park for years. She says that it’s not those like her that are feeding the animals who are causing the problem.
LEE 2: It’s humans and their trash that are attracting the rats in the first place. They don’t, they don’t seem to care about that. You know, the overflowing garbage cans, for instance, they’re coming down on those of us who are feeding the squirrels, the pigeons, that’s what they’re focusing on. But they’re really all about let’s get rid of the rats and there’s a total mindlessness about a lack of observation, a lack of education.
AHMADI 6: Others say New York’s city park wildlife is more nuanced than people realise and the ban doesn’t take that into account.
Mary Beth Artz is a waterfowl rescuer and has worked at the Wildlife Conservation Society for 15 years. While she supports the proposed goals of the ruling, she says it’s too broad and that exceptions should be made to rehabilitators and rescuers who use food as a key tool to save the lives of animals.
BETH ARTZ 1: And not just injured wildlife but also in the case of dumped domestic animals, in particular dumped domestic ducks which we are working on constantly.
AHMADI 7: Others at the hearing were concerned for senior citizens. They say that they are lonely and come to the park to feed the animals for company and that now they are going to be treated as criminals for giving out a little seed.
Robert DeCandido has been running bird walks in central park for the last 25 years. He says there’s a disconnect between the people writing the rules and those meant to follow them.
DECANDIDO 1: It sounds like it’s coming from a bureaucrat in a city office who doesn’t get out of New York City parks much. I think it, it defeats one of the purposes of New York City parks, which is to get people outside and enjoying wildlife. And by feeding birds, it’s one of the most wonderful experiences you can have in your life. To have a small bird land on your hand and take a peanut away. That’s a lot of fun.
AHMADI 8: In a written statement The New York City Parks Department said “food left on the ground is an open invitation for rodents to congregate for a free meal and that this amendment will help to clarify the rules, and keep our parks safe and clean.”
Sophia Ahmadi, Columbia Radio News.