A mallard duck sits with her back to the camera, looking to the side. The duck is at the shore of the Central Park Pond, with some snow and bushes.Animal Law

Animal Law Update: NYC Park’s Proposed Ban on Feeding Birds and Squirrels

Earlier this year, NYC Parks proposed a prohibition on feeding birds and squirrels. As detailed on the site, The Statement of Basis and Purpose of Proposed Rule reads:

NYC Parks proposes to amend § 1-04(g) of Chapter 1 of Title 56 of the Rules of the City of New York. Under the amended rule, individuals will be prohibited from feeding all animals, including squirrels, pigeons, and other birds, in areas under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks.

There was an opportunity for the public to submit comments in person and online, and I detailed my opposition in a public comment, which you can read here: Should there be a prohibition on feeding birds in NYC parks? I say no. But proposed rule would make it soIn my opposition statement, I went through each of the purposes outlined at the NYC Parks website, linked above. Their reasoning didn’t seem fair to me; yes, food littering is a problem in the parks, but is it accurate to blame that on the small group of people who may toss some bird seed on the ground or feed a bird from their hand? Another issue is that if NYC Parks doesn’t want the wrong kind of food being fed to wildlife, then the solution could be to simply provide this information on signs around the park and/or on the parks’ websites.

In Mid-March, I attended a public rally about the issue and to my surprise, had my comment read aloud by the group that organized the rally. Thank you to the Bronx Animal Rights Electors for organizing that event and I was honored that my comment was one of the items read. We had a great turnout at the event and BARE submitted their petition against the rule, which had over 4,000 signatures.

While it seemed like the public response to the proposed prohibition was overwhelming negative, I did see many supportive comments. I was concerned about what was going to happen and had been anxiously monitoring my email since March 1, which was the deadline to submit a public comment.

An important group that submitted a public comment was the New York City Bar’s Animal Law Committee, which I used to be a member of. The Animal Law Committee submitted written testimony jointly with the Bar’s Civil Rights Committee. Their opposition reads in part:

This rule would be an outlier among other animal-related laws. Generally, laws that penalize acts involving animals are characterized by human maliciousness, negligence, or greed. But people who feed birds and other wildlife are motivated by a desire to help animals, not harm them. Indeed, the practice of feeding wild birds grew out of the humanitarianism movement in the 19th century, which promoted kindness to animals. Since then the activity of feeding wild birds continues to be popular and in cities, it is one of the few ways that urban dwellers connect with nature. 

You can read the Committees’ testimony here.

In late March, following public outcry, Mayor de Blasio said of the proposed rule: “I run a vast, vast government, and that doesn’t mean that every proposal put forward by an agency I’m familiar with the details of. This is one I want to get much more familiar with – I’m concerned.”

His statement provided me a little relief, but there wasn’t much said publicly after. For the past few months, there has been no news on the proposed rule. I think this is a good thing; hopefully, the critical public responses swayed some minds. I’m guessing that the rule will be proposed again with some tweaks; for example, the rule as its written makes no exception for wildlife rescuers. A future version of the proposed rule may make such an exception. But, it is my opinion that the best thing to do would be to leave the rules as they are – meaning, let us feed the birds and squirrels!

I do think it wouldn’t hurt to increase public education about feeding birds, particularly ducks, and squirrels in the park. If you’re curious, please read this to learn more about it.

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