Hungry wildlife in Blaine better look elsewhere for their next meal.
With city officials citing particular concern for a steady increase in deer-vehicle collisions, an ordinance that bans feeding wild and feral animals goes into effect April 24.
City Council members approved the ordinance at their March 16 meeting as part of a broader effort in the north metro suburb to develop a formal wildlife management plan.
The ban underscores a common dilemma facing growing suburbs like Blaine: Balancing nature lovers’ desire for close encounters with wildlife and the public safety concerns raised by such encounters.
Feeding deer, for instance, often draws the creatures across roads and results in unwanted feasting on residential vegetation and gardens. Booming deer populations also spark worries about contracting Lyme disease, city officials say.
“Any developing city is going to have these same issues,” said Police Chief Chris Olson.
In Blaine, the number of deer collisions and complaints has surged in recent years. There were 89 collisions in 2015, the most recent year for which numbers are available, compared with 66 collisions in 2013. Complaints about deer jumped from 26 in 2013 to 61 in 2015.
Putting out corn or other feed for deer also poses wildlife health risks, as tight concentrations of deer can fuel the spread of illnesses like chronic wasting disease (CWD), according to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Not a new problem
From Coon Rapids to Bloomington, Blaine is among a growing list of cities to enact such feeding restrictions. The city’s ordinance is especially similar to a wild animal feeding ban in Arden Hills.
While the ordinance faced little pushback in Blaine, it has been a thorny issue elsewhere and has sometimes led to bitter neighborhood strife. In New Brighton, for instance, feeding deer was a chief point of contention in a deadly 2014 dispute between neighbors.
“Urban deer conflicts have been going on for a really long time,” said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager.
The problem with deer taking up residence in urban areas across the state isn’t new, tracing back at least to the early 1990s, Cornicelli said.
In general, the DNR advises against feeding deer, citing disease, increased auto accidents and animal behavior changes as key reasons.
And while the DNR can enact feeding bans for wildlife health issues like CWD, state wildlife officials let cities and counties take the lead on managing their own deer populations, from adopting ordinances to organizing controlled hunts, Cornicelli said.
‘Our goal is education’
Deer are not the only animals whose mealtimes may be disrupted by the new Blaine ordinance. Residents also are prohibited from feeding “wild or feral animals or small mammals” by providing “any grain, fruit, vegetables, nuts, salt licks, or any other food that attracts wild animals.”
Bird feeders are still allowed, so long as they are “placed at a sufficient height or designed to prevent access by wild animals.”
The hope is that the ban will also make a dent in Blaine’s feral cat population, an issue certain neighborhoods have grappled with for years, Mayor Tom Ryan said.
“We have no way to catch cats,” Ryan said.
Some in the city say they are concerned about enforcing the ordinance. Council Member Jason King cited this concern when he voted against the new feeding ban, the only council member to do so.
“If someone puts out a bird feeder to feed deer, there’s no way to really stop that,” King said. “Deer are still going to eat people’s flowers and their gardens.”
Repeat violations of the ordinance could result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of as much as $1,000 fine, city officials said. Not that the police plan to go out and start issuing tickets.
“Our goal is education,” Olson said.