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'Nutty' neighbours cause hawkeye review of feeding bylaws

Midland resident concerned about backyard overfeeding urges ‘council to accept its responsibility having a proper prohibition’ following recent decision
A sign in Midland's Little Lake Park warns against feeding geese and other wildlife, as per the town bylaw.

Following last week’s decision by Midland council to let events play out naturally, resident Mitra Doherty contacted MidlandToday with a follow-up on her plea to have wildlife overfeeding minimized.

Council heard from Doherty during her June deputation as she presented research against overfeeding of birds and mammals from backyard feeders, with photos of large numbers of critters in the area around her home near Wye Marsh; it was an issue that had been persisting for over a year.

The decision by council was to not directly change their feeding geese and seagulls bylaw, but instead to let municipal staff process it along with many other older bylaws in an effort to update or eliminate obsolete bylaws through a report due at a future council meeting.

Doherty told MidlandToday that her silence on the matter had reached a tipping point after a decade of living in the Riverwalk Place area near Aberdeen Boulevard. 

“My concerns became more general having researched the problems with hearing the coyotes and educating myself with (not-for-profit advocacy group) Coyote Watch Canada, concerns with the bird flu disease rampant in the wild birds population (millions have perished in the last few years), and the well being of the migratory mallards," said Doherty.

A short distance away is the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, a provincially significant wetland and woodland. 

“The election of the new council slowed the matter,” said Doherty, who was in contact with some members of the previous term prior to October. Additionally, her own winter travels and the winter orientation of the new council members delayed her deputation further. 

“I was encouraged by the new mayor (Bill Gordon) to do a deputation and ask for a review of the bylaw to speed the process, as opposed to asking for a new bylaw.”

Doherty added, “I was happy with the timing of the follow-up of the issue this September following my presentation. Coun. Catherine MacDonald was particularly helpful and empathetic at the meetings.”

Since the council meeting, Doherty said that town municipal law enforcement officer David Smiley had visited her property to check in and talk about neighbourhood overfeeding of wildlife, but had told her that lack of human resources to enforce such bylaws was an issue.

Doherty had addressed the feeding geese and seagulls bylaw, originated in 1997, as part of her research for her deputation, as no other bylaw for overfeeding applied in town.

The bylaw states that ‘no person shall feed Canada Geese and/or seagulls within any park in the Town of Midland’ where property signs are on display, as can be seen in Little Lake Park where migratory geese have been an ongoing issue for the town. 

She expressed disappointment that some members of council took the matter lightly during the recent meeting when the example of ‘a peanut lady’ generated amusement despite breaking the bylaw and putting those allergic to nuts at risk.

“The best outcome,” Doherty noted, “would be (for) council to accept its responsibility having a proper prohibition of the feeding wildlife, as do many municipalities, to help citizens to avoid conflicts and protect the animals, neighbours and, in this case, agricultural businesses.”

As no current bylaw exists to deal with overfeeding of backyard wildlife, Gordon said at the meeting that residents who had substantial, evidence-based complaints could send letters or photos through the town customer service system which would allow staff to register the complaints.

Additionally, Doherty proposed that no-spill bird feeders would be a way for residents to engage with wildlife without making the problem worse.

With nothing more to do than wait upon Midland council’s review of older bylaws and present that report in an upcoming meeting, Doherty stated that she would be interested in hearing suggestions from other residents who shared her concerns and could accelerate toward a workable solution.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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