Van De Wege wants law to make feeding wild animals illegal
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Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat who represents the 24th District in the state Legislature, wants to make feeding four-legged wildlife a civil infraction. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM -- One can love wildlife too much and turn those four-legged fauna into codependents.

That's what Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, the Sequim Democrat from the 24th Legislative District that includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, has learned.

And he's trying to do something about it.

Van De Wege, who spoke to the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday at the Sequim Elks Club, is pushing for legislation to make feeding deer, elk, raccoons, bears and other furry wildlife illegal.

Two areas near Sequim, Diamond Point and Mains Farm north of town, have large deer populations owing to neighbors who feed them regularly, Van De Wege said.

He knows of one Diamond Point resident who buys 80-pound sacks of dog food for the deer.

Earlier this year, Van De Wege worked with the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, to draft House Bill 1885 to prohibit such handouts.

Feeding wild animals diminishes their foraging abilities and can turn them into nuisances or worse, according to www.paws.org.

"Animals (like humans!) are opportunistic and will go for the most convenient food source . . . When food is readily available, animals will gather in abnormally large numbers" and diseases can spread quickly, according to PAWS.

And "when an unnatural food supply becomes available, animals may produce more young and soon there may be more animals living in the area than what the natural food sources can support. If that food source is no longer available, animals may starve to death," the Web site says.

Beverly Hoffman does not feed the numerous deer who roam streets and yards near her Diamond Point home, but she knows of two people who do.

One woman has provided the animals with store-bought food for going on three years, "and the neighbors are pretty angry with her," Hoffman said.

PAWS receives calls from such neighbors, and "often, [the animals] have become an incredible nuisance, and the caller wants to kill or remove them . . . Wild animals do not usually discriminate between one human and another and will often start pestering other neighbors. They may also cause damage to homes and property because they expect to be fed and have lost their fear of people," the Web site notes.


Authority questioned

During Tuesday's chamber lunch, Clift Mortgage loan officer Arthur Buhrer questioned whether the government should have the power to prohibit wildlife feeding.

Van De Wege responded that in national parks, signs forbidding feeding are common -- for the same reasons: handing out snacks can make animals dependent and even dangerous.

Van De Wege's bill, introduced during the 2009 legislative session, passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee; he hopes to make further progress during the 2010 legislative session to start Jan. 12.

HB 1885 would not apply to chickadees and such songbirds at backyard feeders; the only bird on the bill's list is the wild turkey.

The legislation would make it a civil offense to feed or attract turkeys, deer, elk, bears, coyotes, cougars, opossums and skunks toward any yard or building.

State Fish and Wildlife Department officers would issue a citation "like a speeding ticket," Van De Wege said.

Also during his speech to the chamber, Van De Wege urged residents to give him feedback on their dealings with state government.

"A big part of our job is working with you if you're having problems with the state agencies," he said.

Van De Wege's Sequim office, at 123 W. Bell St., Suite 100, is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

For an appointment, residents may call his administrative assistant, Linda Barnfather, at 360-582-9830.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 09. 2009 11:12PM
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