Vancouver Park Board to vote on penalties for feeding wildlife in city parks

Park board commissioners in Vancouver are set to approve a new bylaw that would fine people $500 for feeding wildlife in any city park. 

The bylaw, which commissioners will debate Monday night, has been months in the making as part of a response to aggressive coyote attacks in Vancouver’s biggest park.

“People should never be feeding [animals] in any of our parks. Whether it’s a squirrel or a raccoon or a coyote. As I say, it habituates them to human interaction and that’s always dangerous,” said Commissioner Stuart MacKinnon, who expects the bylaw to pass. 

“And there has to be some deterrent for those folks who don’t take that into consideration.”

45 coyote attacks

The park board vote comes nearly a week after Stanley Park fully reopened following a two-week cull of coyotes. Four were trapped and euthanized, bringing the number of coyotes removed from the park since January to 11.

Since December, there have been 45 aggressive coyote attacks reported, some of which have included children. The last reported attack was on Aug. 12.

Vancouver Parks Board Commissioner Stuart MacKinnon says penalties for feeding wildlife in Vancouver parks are needed. ‘A fed animal is a dead animal,’ he says. (Doug Kerr)

Officials say that feeding coyotes on purpose and leaving food out inadvertently has contributed to them becoming habituated to humans. They believe the feeding, some of it done to get close-up photos and videos of the animals, is one of the main factors behind the attacks.

“I know that it’s been hard for people during this period when they’re worried about their children and their pets because of the coyotes and I fully understand that,” said Park Board Commissioner John Irwin. 

“My heart goes out to the people who were actually attacked but I’m hopeful that we’ve got things in place that will greatly improve the situation.”

This coyote was photographed in Stanley Park in April 2021. There have been 45 aggressive coyote attacks reported since December. (Bernie Steininger)

Before commissioners is a recommendation that, if approved, would put in place a $500 fine for anyone caught feeding or attempting to feed wildlife in any park. It includes leaving or placing an attractant, such as garbage, in any park in a manner that attracts or could attract wildlife.

The bylaw would include all wildlife in city parks including amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals that are not domestic animals or pets.

“This new bylaw would apply to all wildlife because feeding even small animals increases the amount of prey available for dangerous wildlife, which have greater potential risk to humans,” reads the report prepared by staff for commissioners.

Current park bylaws prohibit leaving food in any area in a park except garbage cans, but they do not specifically address the direct feeding of wildlife or outline deterrent fines that can be issued, according to the report.

Under the B.C. Wildlife Act, conservation officers can ticket people caught illegally feeding “dangerous wildlife,” such as coyotes. Penalties can involve a year in prison or fines worth up to $100,000 for a first offence.

The park board report says that provisions under the B.C. Wildlife Act and resources from the province to enforce them fall short of what is needed to deter wildlife feeding in places like Stanley Park.

“Provincial enforcement resources are stretched, and the restrictions do not extend to other urban wildlife,” it reads.

A sign near Brockton Oval in Vancouver’s Stanley Park advising people not to feed wild animals in the area.(Chad Pawson)

Vancouver animal law lawyer Victoria Shroff says the proposed changes will make it clear to people that feeding any wildlife is harmful.

“If we don’t see a blanket prohibition on the feeding of all animals, we will see people who are confused, who will say, ‘Oh I didn’t realize I couldn’t feed the ducks or the squirrels. I thought I just couldn’t leave out food for coyotes,'” she said.

“I think that it’s good that there’s just one easy to rule to follow.”

How to enforce?

Shroff questions how the park board will enforce the fines without adding more patrols in places like Stanley Park.

The park board report says enforcement of the new bylaws “would require additional staff resources and impact overall operating costs.”

Commissioner Irwin said the park board will look at how to deploy park rangers so they can enforce the new bylaw. 

Other interventions to stop future aggressive coyote attacks in Stanley Park include signs around the park asking that people not feed wildlife and the installation of more secure garbage cans.

Any instances of aggressive coyotes or the feeding of wild animals can be reported to the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.

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