New Edmonton draft bylaw could bring fines for feeding wildlife

On the issue of wildlife feeding bans, Edmonton is an outlier compared to some other big Canadian municipalities. But that could change if city council approves a draft bylaw that proposes $250 and $500 for rule breakers.

'It's a step in the right direction and I think we really need to have more tools,' biologist says

The bylaw looks to decrease the number of potentially dangerous human-coyote interactions, while cutting down on wildlife diseases and overabundance. (Edmonton Urban Coyote Project )

People caught feeding wildlife in Edmonton could soon face fines as city councillors consider whether to adopt a new bylaw. 

When it comes to wildlife feeding bylaws, Edmonton is an outlier among several big Canadian municipalities. Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver have already adopted similar rules.

But that could change if city council approves a draft bylaw, headed before the community and public services committee on Wednesday, that proposes $250 and $500 fines for rule breakers.

A conservation biologist who advises the city on wildlife management issues says it would be a welcome change.

"I'm delighted with this bylaw," said Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta. 

"It's a step in the right direction and I think we really need to have more tools to help people realize that that short-term favour they think they're doing for wildlife is going to cause longer-term problems." 

A person could be hit with a $500 fine if they feed or deposit food for wildlife in a way that leads to a public safety issue, health risk or nuisance. That applies to the build-up of rotten food or to habituating an animal by intentionally leaving out snacks.

A lesser $250 fine could be doled out if someone doesn't clean up fruit from a fallen tree on their property and it starts to attract wildlife. A bird feeder must be suspended so that it's only accessible to squirrels and birds, the draft reads. 

Anyone caught feeding or leaving food for wildlife in a city park would also be subject to a $250 fine. 

"The fine is a modest one and I think it'll play a role along with a lot of public education," said St. Clair, who studies conservation biology from the perspective of animal behaviour. 

'It's really hard to reverse that trend'

While the gesture might seem compassionate, St. Clair said feeding wildlife can come back to bite the animals, with potentially serious consequences for humans too. 

The city receives around 4,000 wildlife complaints every year, mostly related to coyotes, according to a city report. Only a small portion are related to feeding wildlife, the report said.

A City of Edmonton sign warning of coyote activity in an area of Mill Creek Ravine. (Dave Howell/CBC)

Naturally, coyotes try to avoid humans. But habituated to human food sources, they become more brazen. Without preventive measures, St. Clair says the likelihood of dangerous encounters between coyotes and humans could increase. 

"Once animals associate people with feed, it's really hard to reverse that and conflict always follows," said St. Clair, lead researcher of the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project. 

There's also growing concern about the transmission of disease to humans from coyotes and other wildlife in Edmonton, St. Clair said. A recent study found urban coyotes in Alberta are about 50 per cent more likely than their rural counterparts to carry a parasitic tapeworm that can make people seriously ill. 

Echinococcus multilocularis, first spotted in Western Canada in 2012, is now thought to be widespread in Alberta's coyote population. The parasite can spread through the coyote's infected feces, potentially contaminating dogs or ending up in a backyard. 

The first human case of the tumour-like disease in Canada was diagnosed in 2013. At least 16 people in Alberta have since received the diagnosis. 

It's still unclear why urban coyotes are more susceptible to the tapeworm, St. Clair says, but one theory is that the city-dwelling diet — human-sourced foods, in particular — is hurting their immune system. 

With unchecked wildlife feeding, there's also concerns certain species could grow in abundance, including mice and geese, further unsettling the urban ecological balance. 

"We don't only want the species that are best at exploiting people," said St. Clair. 

If it gets a green light from the committee on Wednesday, the draft bylaw would then go before city council for approval. 


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