Okaloosa County to consider ban on feeding wildlife
CRESTVIEW — The days of being able to feed birds on the beach next to The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island or at other Okaloosa County beaches and county parks might be numbered.
The County Commission last Tuesday approved conducting a public hearing at 9 a.m. Nov. 17 to consider an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of wildlife on county-owned or leased properties.
The hearing is set for the board’s regular meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m. in the County Administration Building in Shalimar.
During the opening public comment period at last Tuesday’s meeting, John Perry, general manager of Rockin Tacos at The Boardwalk, said he supports a ban on feeding “predatory” birds on county property.
In addition to Rockin Tacos, The Boardwalk features several other restaurants as well as shops and a covered picnic area.
“We’ve got a couple of folks who hang out on the beach and feed birds all day, every day,” Perry told commissioners.
One of the people he referred to is known as “the pigeon man” of Okaloosa Island, who for years has fed more than 100 pigeons on the beach next to The Boardwalk for hours at a time almost every day.
The feeding of birds on the beach has “become a big nuisance to my business,” Perry said. “We’ve got birds attacking people on the deck while they’re eating, stealing food, and it becomes my job to replace the food (customers) have lost.”
“Now that’s a capital offense, stealing that food,” said outgoing District 1 Commissioner Graham Fountain, who is known to joke about his love of food.
“That’s correct,” Perry replied. “It costs me money, Graham."
“I know (birds) stole mine one time: One french fry,” Fountain said.
“Don’t be getting between a man and his french fry,” Perry added.
In response to a question from District 4 Commissioner and board Chairman Trey Goodwin, Perry said he was referring to pigeons and seagulls as “predatory” birds.
“Even baby finches are sometimes a problem, but the bigger (types of birds) are scaring customers off and I’m starting to lose business because some people have a fear of birds,” Perry said.
District 2 Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, whose district includes Okaloosa Island, then brought up Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “The Birds,” that centers on birds attacking people.
“It’s that bad,” she said of feathered friends being fed at the Boardwalk. “I think this (proposed ordinance) is very warranted.”
Goodwin said he looked forward to more discussion of the issue.
“It’s always surprising to me when you see people feeding chips to seagulls on the beach and then they get upset when the seagulls give it back to them” after digesting such snacks, he said.
“They say that’s good luck, but I don’t believe it,” Perry said.
“Yeah. Someone else can have that luck,” Goodwin said.
Chris Cassidy, who runs Floyd’s Shrimp House and Al’s Beach Club and Burger Bar at The Boardwalk, told commissioners he pays from $2,000 to $5,000 a month on cleaning his restaurants for customers.
The feeding of many birds on the beach “is definitely something that needs to be addressed,” Cassidy said.
Goodwin said the possible feeding ban would address such problems while overlooking minor incidents, such as a child throwing a bread crumb to a duck at a park.
The proposed ordinance defines wildlife as “any non-domesticated animal, whether native or non-native, protected or non-protected, or any non-human primate, raccoon, feral cat, skunk, fox, ferret, poisonous snake, leopard, panther, tiger, lion, lynx or any bird, amphibian, fish, invertebrate, mammal or reptile so classified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or such successor agency.”
In a recent memo to the County Commission, county Tourist Development Department Director Jennifer Adams said feeding wildlife often has a detrimental rather than a helpful effect, and can cause some species to concentrate so much on supplemental feeding that they become a nuisance or threat to people.
“This has become a major issue on the beach with bird feeding in front of The Boardwalk,” Adams said in the memo. “This issue has continued to grow in size and is impacting businesses and activities on the beach.”
She added that FWC officers have been unable to address the matter, and that the proposed ordinance, if approved, would allow the county to direct an animal control officer to enforce the feeding ban.
A first violation would prompt a warning, a second violation would result in a $100 fine and a third offense would result in a $250 fine along with the violator being charged with a misdemeanor.
The Nov. 17 meeting will be the first one behind the dais for newly elected District 1 Commissioner Paul Mixon and District 5 Commissioner Mel Ponder. They will replace Fountain and Commissioner Kelly Windes, neither of whom sought re-election.
District 1 includes a part of Crestview and District 5 includes the Destin area.