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Cities, towns get ahead of counties on wildlife feeding

Dec 10, 2015 By Christina George, Staff Writer

Town councilors in Lander and Dubois have made it illegal to feed wildlife within city limits, and a bill the Wyoming Legislature will take up next year would extend similar authority to county commissions.

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee has agreed to sponsor the "county resolution-feeding wildlife" bill.

The bill would grant county commissions power to regulate the feeding of wildlife within the county's boundaries and impose up to a $500 fine per offense.

The bill makes an exception for farm and ranch operations under the Wyoming Right to Farm and Ranch Act.

'Bigger problems'

Fremont County elected officials say they have bigger issues to address than trying to regulate feeding wildlife.

"As far as Fremont County considering it, it is not really on top of the list of things to do," Fremont County Commis-sion chairman Doug Thompson said.

"In the grand scheme of things of Fremont County, yes it happens out here. Is it a major problem that we would prioritize? In my opinion, I would say no. We have bigger problems out here to deal with, and with our limited resources."

Thompson said the law would require sheriff's deputies to respond to more calls.

"It would impact our law enforcement as well as our court system," he added.

Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker questioned the difficulty in enforcement.

"I haven't seen the bill, but it would be very concerning to me if we had a bill that would restrict, in any form or fashion, anything to do with wildlife and shoved on local law enforcement," Hornecker said. "How in the world would you enforce it to start with?"

Extending authority

State Rep. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, said he put forth the bill so that counties could have the same authority as cities in prohibiting feeding wildlife.

"I had a constituent group up in Centennial having trouble with neighbors feeding wildlife, and then they go and chew trees up and destroy property, and the Game and Fish can't do anything because there isn't an ordinance," Moniz said. "It's a big problem in the state, and I was just representing my constituents, but it would be up for each county to decide."

Current ordinances

Cities and towns can pass ordinances making wildlife feeding illegal. The move was made two years ago in Lander as well as in Dubois. City administrator Steven Weaver said Riverton does not have such a regulation.

Game and Fish officials can't help with a wildlife problem unless there is an ordinance in place, said Rene Schell, G&F's local information and education specialist.

"We have no authority," Schell said. "It would be the police department writing the citations."

Local level

State Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, co-chairs the committee was among the overwhelming support to forward on the bill.

"We needed to get it down more toward the local level, to not have the state dictate to the counties or have the cities decide if they are going to allow this," Cooper said.

"And it's gotten to a point where it's been a real problem in many areas in the state."

Cooper said the bill has come up in previous years, but it loses traction when it hits the Legislature.

"(The bills) don't seem to get through the Legislature. I am not sure why. People just have interesting emotions about whether you should feed wildlife or not feed wildlife," he said.

Cooper added that he's aware the law could be hard to enforce, but he said simply having it in place could be enough to deter some people.

Schell said education on the downside of feeding wildlife is essential.

"You think you are helping (the animals), but their bodies can't actually digest (the food) because they don't have the right bacteria in their stomachs," she said.

The bill will require a two-thirds vote in the house of origin to be considered during the upcoming budget session. If the bill passes, it would go into effect July 1.

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