Days of former mayor feeding geese at Terry's lake could come to an end as Terrytown considers wildlife feeding ban

Former Terrytown Mayor Kent Greenwalt spends many mornings at Terry's Lake feeding the geese that are now familiar with seeing him there. On Thursday, the Terrytown City Council will consider passage of Ordinance 450, prohibiting the feeding of wildlife or waterfowl within the city limits.

TERRYTOWN — For the past several years, former Terrytown Mayor Kent Greenwalt has spent many of his mornings on the banks of Terry’s Lake feeding the Canada geese that stop by. And over the years, the geese have come to recognize him and feel safe in approaching him.

Terrytown’s city council is considering an ordinance that would ban feeding of geese and other wildlife. Do you think the council should pass the ordinance?

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That could change Thursday when members of the Terrytown City Council consider a third reading and passage of Ordinance 450. If approved, it would prohibit the feeding of wildlife and waterfowl within the city limits.

Verbiage in the proposed ordinance states that feeding wild animals and waterfowl is detrimental to the animals themselves as well as being a public health and safety hazard. That hazard impacts recreational areas and walkways in the city.

Greenwalt said the ordinance doesn’t make sense.

“The ordinance isn’t going to keep the geese off the lake and it won’t keep people living around the lake from feeding them,” he said.

He pointed out the ordinance also prohibits the feeding of wildlife, which could include wild rabbits, deer, turkeys, feral cats, raccoons, as well as ducks and geese.

Ordinance 450 grew out of public comments at the council’s July 2019 meeting. Terrytown resident Kayla Gasker addressed council members regarding the feeding of Canada geese at Terry’s Lake. She said many individuals had been feeding the geese on a regular basis.

When contacted last week, Gasker said feeding geese just encourages them to stay year-round.

“A large amount of geese in an area can affect the water quality, recreation activities and people’s safety as far as the waste left behind,” she said. “If the waterfowl stay year-round, they may outcompete with native species and create a monoculture of geese in one area.”

She said an overpopulation of geese could happen at any time. She pointed to Denver, which had to perform mass culling of geese because the feeding problem had become so severe.

Gasker had worked for a river authority in Texas and said feeding geese and waterfowl isn’t good for the birds themselves because of the problem of overpopulation.

Terrytown resident Brian Nielsen also spoke at the July council meeting. He told council members he had contacted the Nebraska Game and Parks in the past about the geese problem. After monitoring the situation, the department recommended an end to feeding the geese, he said.

During the time they were discussing Ordinance 450, council members also approved zoning changes that would allow single family dwellings in Terrytown to keep up to eight hens, chicken, ducks or turkeys.

In a Sept. 27 email, Terrytown City Attorney Libby Stobel said those zoning changes are in specific contrast with the proposed ordinance as it is written.

“The ordinance has not been amended, nor was the second reading waived, so it has been set for a final reading on Thursday,” she said. “Given the recent zoning changes, I struggle to believe the ordinance will pass.”

Ordinance 450 calls for as maximum fine of $5 for each offense. Along with court costs, the fine could run in the neighborhood of $60. All fines from ordinances in Terrytown go back to the Gering school district.

Stobel said most citations are paid without being contested. But if a person decides to plead not guilty, it requires a trip through the court system.

In those cases, Terrytown taxpayers end up footing the bill for the city prosecutor preparing documents, plus being present for court proceedings until a ruling is made.

“The bigger purpose of the ordinance isn’t to collect fines, but to stop people from feeding the geese at the lake,” Stobel said. “This is something that’s been going on for years and some citizens are frustrated. But since July, there hasn’t been much comment on the issue.”

Terrytown City Council member Mike Minzey said he’s still undecided on whether he’d support passage of the ordinance. If he does, his support would be based on potential spread of disease.

“When Kayla spoke at our meeting, she said waterfowl should be left alone in a wild habitat,” Minzey said. “They shouldn’t be expecting to be fed every morning by someone with a bag of feed.”

That concern is shared by Scotts Bluff County Health Director Paulette Schnell, although her department hasn’t received any complaints about feeding wild animals and waterfowl.

“Whenever wildlife learns to live from handouts by people, they stop searching for their own food and become dependent on humans,” Schnell said. “That can become a health and environmental hazard in an area that isn’t set up to handle large numbers of animals.”

The Terrytown City Council will consider whether or not to pass Ordinance 450 after a third and final reading. The council meets on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Housing Partners meeting room at 89A Woodley Park Road.

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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