NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Feeding animals in city parks could soon be outlawed.
That means feeding birds and squirrels – which many people love to do – could mean fines or even jail time and that’s sparking a heated debate across the five boroughs.
“I throw them under the trees,” Lucia Maris said, tossing some nuts under a shady tree in New York City.
Maria regularly feeds squirrels at Madison Square Park, even though it’s currently one of the few parks where it’s not allowed.
“I get them prime nuts and sometimes during the summer it’s a fruit or a coconut because they need hydration.”
Soon, doing this at any park property could land Maria a $50 fine. In extreme cases, possibly even a night in jail.
It is currently illegal to feed any wildlife except for squirrels and birds such as pigeons, but the parks department is proposing the rule be changed to ban feeding all animals. This would legally constitute “an abuse of park animals.”
“This is their home. How can we deny them food? That’s cruel,” Roxanne Delgado of Bronx Animal Rights Electors said.
“Very few of these are trees that provide nutrients for the animals,” avid squirrel feeder Mark Lichtenstein said.
A parks department spokesperson claimed food left on the ground is an open invitation for rodents. They say the amendment will help keep the parks clean.
“I’d be in support of the rule just to be able to prevent people from doing that because we have a very bad rat population here,” Sara Rivera argued.
The parks spokesperson added that human food is unhealthy and animals should not become dependent on park visitors.
Caitlin Shann feeds pigeons and argues birdseed is not the reason for rodents.
“They don’t eat bird seed. They don’t eat nuts. They eat garbage and they eat people’s food waste and so that’s where we should be focused,” Shann said.
“They should be hiring people to clean up garbage and putting in rat-proof garbage cans.”
A spokesperson for the department told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner it’ll review all comments and make a decision before the summer.