The City Council will on Monday discuss an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of wildlife and water fowl. Good.
There are some things affecting Rapid City's water supply over which the council has no control. The exacerbation of the duck and goose problem in Rapid City is not one of them. And, as council members discuss the proposed $500 fine for feeding wildlife, you can be sure there will be in attendance a long line of well-meaning citizens who believe that feeding the ducks at Canyon Lake is not only their right, but it is a tradition which must be saved.
It is a tradition. One of my earliest memories is of taking a bag of bread heals to the lake and feeding the ducks. My dad spent a good deal of time with me teaching me to identify the difference between a bald pate and a mallard.
I have loved waterfowl ever since. The walls in my house are covered with paintings of them. Nearly every shelf has a wooden decoy of some sort. I spent years as a volunteer and eventually as the area chairman for Ducks Unlimited. People who know me would be hard pressed to question my devotion to the preservation of waterfowl.
That said, the situation in West Rapid City is not healthy for waterfowl or the citizens. Canyon Lake is a screwed up mess and has been since after the 1972 flood. I certainly cannot supply a better solution than the ones that have been enacted since the flood. But those decisions have had a negative effect on the lake, as it is used for recreation. The reason: it isn't deep enough.
I lived in Kansas at the time of the flood. However, I understand the decision to make Canyon Lake considerably shallower. But, there were trade-offs. Other events have had their effects, including upstream development and increased silt resulting from fire run-off. Council cannot control those things.
A perfect storm of events have combined to make Canyon Lake what it is today. The shallower lake is warmer, the still parts of the lake outside the Rapid Creek channel, also are warmer and serve as collection areas for "organic matter" from upstream. That "organic matter" percolates in those still areas and with the aid of increased sunlight creates a haven for aquatic plant life.
That plant life chokes the oxygen out of water that is already oxygen shy, because of the stillness. This creates an adverse environment for Canyon Lake as a fishery.
Of course, this creates a wonderful environment for waterfowl, so ducks that once dropped by for a couple of weeks annually on their way to somewhere else, now stick around, sometimes forever. Add to this a component of citizens who provide these animals with a daily meal (which is not a healthy, well-balanced diet) of breadcrumbs, donuts, jellybeans, birdseed and kids' suckers, candy bars, burgers and fries.
The result has been that we now have tens of thousands of little fertilizer producers dumping "organic matter" into a body of water that sits above our water treatment plant.
An additional problem, which I don't believe is addressed in the ordinance before the city, is that many of the ducks and geese at Canyon Lake have no business being there. A Game Fish And Parks employee once called them Donald Ducks. Those are the domestic ducks and geese that have found their way into the wild habitat at the lake.
This happens when well-meaning parents and grand-parents buy their tykes those cute Easter ducklings. When it is discovered that raising ducks is not like raising a puppy, the ducks and geese are delivered to Canyon Lake, where they join the other fat quackers out there. One thing leads to another, (nature being nature and all) and the wild ducks begin romancing the domestic ducks.
The results are not good for wildlife. Genetic goofs like those anyone can observe at Canyon Lake not only foul the lake, but they foul the gene pool as well. The right thing to do with the domestic ducks and geese (Donald Ducks) and their offspring, is to make them table fare, if they are determined to not be diseased. In any event, they need to be killed to assure they don't breed with wild waterfowl.
An amendment to the ordinance before the council is needed to address the issue of releasing pets into the wild. If you turn your grandson's Easter duckling loose at Canyon Lake, it ought to cost you $500.
Okay. So there are a lot of issues with fining people $500 for doing what they've always done here in Rapid City. (Enforcement will be a nightmare, by the way. Imagine a compliance officer issuing grandma and grandpa a ticket for feeding the ducks. They'll say they weren't feeding the ducks, their 4-year-old grandson was, ticket him. It won't be pretty.) But the truth is that a magistrate will likely decide to fine people with a first offense, significantly less than the maximum. And, city attorneys likely will seldom, if ever, ask for a maximum fine.
But a sign that reads "Do Not Feed the Wildlife: $500 Fine" will likely prevent many from bringing their stale bread to the lake. They could post a couple of those signs at Storybook Island and Sioux Park and I'd be tickled.
Ducks and geese in Canyon Lake, at Storybook Island and in Sioux Park are a problem. They foul our waters and our foot-paths. Discontinuing the practice of allowing the public to feed them will reduce their numbers. That, in turn will improve our water quality before it enters the treatment plant, and improve the health of the remaining birds.
I will miss the tradition of taking my grand-kids to the lake to feed the ducks. A cleaner water supply and a population of healthy ducks is worth the sacrifice.