SUNDRE — The municipality will for the time being remain without an official bylaw prohibiting people from feeding wildlife.
During the regularly scheduled Sept. 7 meeting, Coun. Cheri Funke proposed a motion directing administrative staff to draft a bylaw that would ban the practice.
“I made the motion to direct staff to look into writing a bylaw, and I went down in flames,” Funke told The Albertan the following day.
“I was the only vote for,” she said.
While she from a personal perspective “thoroughly disagrees” with feeding wildlife, the councillor brought the matter forward directly in response to concerns raised by residents.
“It’s happened the whole time that I’ve been on council. You get random comments from residents and it actually started cropping up on social media, and that’s when lately, the contact has increased with phone calls and the comments on social media,” she explained.
“So, I finally said, ‘Well, this is my job. I’m going to bring it to council and see where it goes.’”
Aside from causing the animals harm by filling their stomachs with food they cannot digest — which can result in the starving death of an animal despite having a full stomach — feeding wildlife also increases the risk of negative encounters with people as the animals lose their natural fear of humans.
Although illegal in national and provincial parks as well as provincial recreation areas, there is no general provision under Alberta’s Wildlife Act specifically prohibiting the feeding of wildlife.
The issue is not new in Sundre, where residents have previously expressed concerns about people who feed wildlife.
“When they come and they eat in town, they’re not necessarily getting their proper diet,” said Funke. “What’s been happening over the last couple of years, I know that the deer in town look unhealthy.
“We — our staff — even put together this information booklet that’s available online so that we could teach residents what they’re doing to the animals. Because we’ve actually had to pick up dead animals, and you can tell that they’re starving. Their stomachs may be full, but they can’t digest what some people are feeding them."
“It’s just sad. We’re not helping the situation by feeding them. Yes, they’re great. But they’re wildlife and you shouldn’t be feeding them, is my personal opinion.”
Asked whether a bylaw banning people from feeding wildlife was realistically enforceable even if one was to be drafted and approved by council, Funke said, “That’s the hard part of it, because the enforcement can be done. But essentially, it is you calling on your neighbours.”
A complainant would need to have proof corroborating their claim, which could potentially even mean a court appearance, she said.
“Really, it would come down to the resident and how strong they felt about the situation,” she said.
But with Funke’s motion defeated with her vote being the only one in favour, that’s not a scenario that’s about to materialize any time soon.
“There are other municipalities that have gone the way of the bylaw, but we will not be one of them,” she said.
While the process for residents to submit to the municipality concerns about operational matters, such as road or sidewalk repairs, involves calling the town office and filling out a form, Funke said the concerns expressed in this instance fell under governance.
“This concern was not an operations concern because there is no bylaw or policy in place, so therefore making it a governance concern, and I believe that is one of the jobs of an elected official.”
Having had an opportunity to speak with a resident who had brought the matter back on the radar, the councillor said, “He understood that it’s a precarious spot. But he appreciated that I brought it forward. And that’s all I could do.”