AUSTIN, Texas – Following the lead of other states and America’s national parks, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted Thursday to amend state code to prohibit visitors from feeding wildlife in Texas State Parks.
The proposed state park operational rule change, which was published for public comment in the Texas Register in December and received only six comments — four against the proposal — is expected take effect in March in all 120 state parks.
Walt Dabney, Texas State Parks Director, told commissioners the feeding ban addresses a very real human health and safety issue and follows the lead of America’s national parks and most park systems. He pointed out that the feeding of wild animals in state park campgrounds perpetuates habitat degradation, can lead to an unnatural and unhealthy increase in animal population levels, and increases the possibility of the transmission of diseases and of humans or pets being injured or killed by wildlife.
“When wild animals begin associating humans with food, they don’t become less wild; they lose their inherent fear of humans. Thus, with animals and humans in close proximity, increased chances of wildlife biting, charging, goring, or kicking visitors becomes a real possibility. Having wild animals living in an unnatural environment where they are being fed is not what we want,” Dabney said.
Dabney cited two close calls that could have been “horrible” for park visitors because of an aggressive javelina at Choke Canyon and aggressive feral hog at Fairfield Lake State Park. Park personnel, he said, were forced to shoot the hog and the javelina which were endangering campers.
“Our knowing about these incidents and allowing it (feeding) to continue is a tragedy waiting to happen,” Dabney said. “In some parks, we were allowing people to feed them corn and even selling the feed. By continuing to allow feeding of wildlife in state parks, we would be knowingly allowing a dangerous situation to occur.
State park law enforcement officers and game wardens will have the authority to enforce the feeding ban rule and could charge flagrant offenders with a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by as much as a $500 fine. However, Dabney said the emphasis would be on educating park visitors about the rule change through posted signs and issuing warnings to first-time violators and other measures. Only in the most serious situations, according to Dabney, would violators be issued a citation.
The new rule, which applies to wildlife feeding only in state parks, is not meant to prohibit “reasonable things, like having bird feeders that are designed to keep out other animals” placed in designated wildlife viewing areas, the state parks director said. He said park managers may allow, on a case-by-case basis, bird feeders that do not allow other wildlife to access the feed. Park managers may also allow feeding outside of campgrounds or other developed areas to bring wildlife to observation or photography blinds in controlled situations that don’t cause animals to associate humans with feeding.
“We’re not trying to discourage one of the most enjoyable activities in our state parks – the viewing of the wild animals – but it’s not acceptable to have these animals bedded down in our campsites or rummaging through coolers,” Dabney said.
With the approved amendment, the “wildlife” section of the Rules of Conduct in State Parks now states that it is an offense to: “feed or offer food to any wildlife or exotic wildlife, or to leave food unsecured in a manner that makes the food available to wildlife or exotic wildlife, unless specifically authorized by the department. The feeding of birds may be permitted on a park-by-park basis as prescribed by the department.”