Garner discusses keeping chickens, slaying deer

kjahner@newsobserver.comJanuary 27, 2014 

— On Thursday the town’s law and finance committee discussed the prospects of new laws that could legalize keeping chickens for pets and killing deer with bows and arrows.

Neither has any formal proposal, as council requested more information from staff after discussion of the pluses and minuses as well as potential limits and conditions.

The idea of keeping pet chickens in yards was also proposed a few years ago. And it was also brought up again in June, with the town agreeing to halt enforcement on the issue. That moratorium has been extended through April. But momentum from the last attempt did not indicate overwhelming support.

“Last time, I talked to the other four, because I was in favor of moving on with it. None of them were in favor of it, so we killed it in committee. So I said at least this time let’s have a public hearing and vote on it,” council member Gra Singleton said.

Proponents consider the chickens pets. The birds eat bugs and ticks, and people like the fresh eggs they produce. They say, with hens, noise is minimal, and that waste is far less than that of a dog and serves as fertilizer. They also say complaints of odors are non-issues if numbers are reasonable, and that they aerate the soil.

“I think they bring communities together,” said Kristen Warren, who lives just outside of Garner and helped pushed to make hens legal about four years ago. “They’re beneficial, get people outside, they’re great for the kids.”

Garner resident Rodney Stratton of Longview Street, where properties are about a third of an acre, said a neighbor had hens that initially roamed into his yard. Though his neighbor made an enclosure for them since, Stratton still isn’t sold.

“They didn’t ask me, which would be nice,” Stratton said. “I’m deciding whether to put a deck on my house because they cackle all the time.”

Initial ideas included limiting the hens’ coups to backyards, and keeping them at least 15 feet away from the border of the yard. Singleton and council members Ken Marshburn and Kathy Behringer discussed limits between five and 10 hens and possibly allowing more for larger plots. Questions of whether to require or give preferences to different fencing situations also emerged.

Staff will further study other towns’ ordinances and present council with options and more information. Many towns in the county permit hens kept as pets, with varying limitations.

“Raleigh is the most flexible town by far,” said Singleton. “Raleigh is everyone’s favorite place to live. There’s hens across the street from the governor’s mansion.”

Homeowners associations would still have the power to keep chickens out of their neighborhoods.

Planning director Brad Bass said nuisance issues would be likely be handled by animal control. Police Chief Brandon Zuidema warned that without concrete options to handle nuisance complaints, such as taking the birds away, police could end up handcuffed as a civil penalty is pursued. And with such gray area as noise and odor enforcement can be tricky, but he said police would do its best.

“In my experiences, civil penalties never resolve the issue,” Zuidema said.

Bow hunting

Marshburn and Behringer didn’t raise substantial objections regarding the hens, but they did express major concerns over deer hunting.

“Urban bow-hunting” has grown in the state, from suburban Charlotte to Chapel Hill to Wake Forest. An article in Time magazine featured new implementation of rules in Durham and the nationwide trend fueled by uncontrolled deer populations. Humans, with trash and gardens among other things, have expanded deer’s food source. Aside from eating flowers they also cause nearly 1,000 car wrecks in Wake County each year.

“The only predators for the deer are cars,” Singleton said.

At least 44 municipalities in the state have legal bow-hunting within regular hunting season in the fall or a special short urban bow season in the winter. They typically require an “area of consent” covering contiguous area of a certain number of acres. Property owners must grant permission, and typically hunters must shoot from a stand at least 10 feet off the ground.

Behringer said she had no interest even discussing the idea without a requirement of at least five acres, which Durham’s law requires. Fairly little of Garner’s land is covered by five acres plots, though neighboring plots could band together.

Marshburn suggesting that if the goal was to reduce deer population for road safety, the town should be sure it could work.

Zuidema, looking at maps of traffic wrecks, noted that many of the big properties that might turn into legal hunting grounds didn’t match up with areas where most car-deer collisions occurred – typically near major roads. He said he wasn’t too concerned about safety with licensed hunters, but said training for and providing enforcement would require resources.

Hunting – bow or gun – is legal with property owner permission and a license in Wake County. Across Lake Benson and just outside town limits to the south, gunshots can be frequently heard during hunting season, Singleton noted.

Marshburn also asked how often deer sprinted off only to eventually die after a hunter hit one, noting that Durham has a rule that hunters had to do their best to track down and collect any they hit.

“If a deer would wind up on someone else’s yard dying with an arrow stuck in its side,” Marshburn said. “You could understand the repulsiveness with that.”

Deer meat that isn’t used by the hunter in many cases ends up donated to local food pantries.

Bass said planning and research on the hunting issue is not as far along as with the hens. It could be a month and a half before staff reports back to council.

“I think we need to make sure this is appropriate to our situation and not just a general interest,” Behringer said.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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