CANNON BEACH, Ore. (AP) — Do yourself - and the animals - a favor: don't feed the birds, or the rabbits or raccoons or any wildlife, for that matter.
It may not be a crime - yet - but if an education effort planned by the city of Cannon Beach doesn't work, a proposed ordinance that carries a $500 penalty might discourage visitors and guests from leaving stale pieces of bread on the ground for the birds or offering a carrot to a bunny.
Considered by the Cannon Beach City Council during a work session Tuesday night, the ordinance could help clean up streams that state officials have deemed hazardous because of high bacterial counts.
Public Works Director Mark See told the council that DNA tests have shown that animal feces, especially from seagulls, appears to be the source of most of the bacteria.
"Animals are a large factor in what happens with water quality," See said.
The Ecola Court Outfall stream, which empties onto the beach off West Gower Street, is of a particular concern. Last year, 12 state health advisories were issued because of high bacterial counts.
During the past four weeks, the outfall stream, which combines storm water runoff throughout the city and runs into one pipe, failed three out of four tests, which prompted more state warnings.
Flowing nearby several hotels and a restaurant, the outflow stream is popular with children who like to wade in it or play in the sand.
The proposed ordinance is similar to one adopted in Rockaway Beach, See said. The city of Newport also is considering an ordinance.
But See suggested - and the council agreed - that before an ordinance is put into effect that fliers be printed and distributed to hotels, restaurants and other locations frequented by tourists warning them about the dangers of feeding birds and wildlife.
A draft flier shows a photo of the Ecola Court outfall pipe and warns that the stream often contains high bacterial counts that could be unsafe for human contact. Birds often roost on roofs near the stream, and their droppings contaminate it, the brochure says.
People are asked not to feed the wildlife because they can find their own food and "most food offered by humans is unhealthy for them."
It also asks people to "not consider wildlife as pets. Many carry diseases. Raccoons particularly carry many bacteria dangerous to humans."
The fliers might hit home to parents that the outflow stream "is not the best place to have a 4-year-old building sandcastles," See said.
He said the ordinance wouldn't require officers to "go out and become animal-feeding police," but it would give them some "muscle" if people continued to feed the animals after being warned.
City Councilor Nancy Giasson was skeptical that not feeding the seagulls would keep them away from roofs near the outfall stream.
"Where you feed them they tend to stay," See replied. "In some cases that can make it harder to control water quality."
Some DNA samples also contain raccoon feces, See added.
"They love all our culverts," he said. "They nest in them, raise their young in them. But they have heartworms and other diseases that can be serious. We haven't identified raccoons as the biggest problem, but some samples show they're here."
Feeding rabbits also encourages them to stay in the area, where they breed and multiply, See said. Often animals become used to being fed by humans and don't learn how to hunt for food on their own, making them more vulnerable when humans aren't around to feed them, he said.
Councilors Sam Steidel and Wendy Higgins said they wanted to purse the educational effort before adopting an ordinance. Having an ordinance that imposed a $500 penalty may not present the best image for Cannon Beach, which is also embarking on a marketing effort to bring in more tourists, they said.
But Mark Albrecht, a member of a public works committee that drafted the ordinance, said that "nothing short of a law is going to keep people from feeding the animals."
Albrecht said he knows of several residents in the Tolovana Park area who regularly feed birds and raccoons.
"If you value not reading about Cannon Beach failing more water tests, an ordinance is going to be worth it," Albrecht said.
Resident Barbara Linnett, who helps to test the local streams, agreed with Albrecht. The outfalls at Tolovana and Ecola are regular play sites for children and both have had high bacteria counts this year, she said.
"There's nothing more negative than to read in the paper that a kid got sick," she said.
But local hotel owners Patrick Noefield and Tom Drumheller urged the council to forego the ordinance and pursue the educational effort.
Drumheller said he was skeptical, however, that not feeding the animals would reduce the water quality problem "even 5 percent." He called the ability to feed birds and rabbits a "wonderful memory" for children to take away with them.
"Occupancy is down," Drumheller said. "We have to work harder than ever before to bring people here. We do not need more negative news about a $500 fine on a kid who wants to feed the birds."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.