Uproar over armed firefighters killing chickens by homes
By Christa Jenkins
HIGH SPRINGS — After seeing High Springs firefighters toting rifles through a neighborhood and shooting at chickens last week, residents said they are infuriated.
The southwest sector of town between Southwest Fourth Avenue and Poe Springs Road has had a chicken problem for years.
Many residents said they were upset not that the chickens were killed but the manner in which the situation was handled last Wednesday, Feb. 1.
Residents said they were not notified that the shooting would happen, that they worried about the safety of their children and pets, and that firefighters ran through private property without permission.
When the shooting was over, residents said they were left to deal with injured chickens and a bloody mess.
City officials, however, said that multiple safety precautions were taken, including having the city’s police chief on the scene with a safety perimeter in place.
The Animal that Defied Classification
Starting about two years ago, the city began to receive complaints from residents living in the southwest area of town between Southwest Fourth Avenue and Poe Springs Road, said City Manager Jim Drumm, himself a previous resident of the area.
At that time, as many as 50 wild chickens that nested in the woods surrounding the area had begun to leave the woods and cause trouble for residents.
Roosters crowed at street lights at all hours of the night. Hens tore up yards and left feces in them for residents to step in. The fowl stood in the streets and upheld traffic.
When the cars in the neighborhood were parked, the chickens flew atop them to roost and left scratches.
Some residents even complained that they were afraid to leave their homes because the roosters were aggressive and chased people.
It was a mess for the growing city, Drumm said.
After receiving numerous complaints, city officials attempted to gain the help of Alachua County Animal Control but were declined because the organization only handles domestic animals and pets.
Since the chickens were wild, Animal Control would not help, Drumm said.
So officials went to the Florida Wildlife Commission instead, but that government agency labels chickens as farm animals and refused to help, Drumm said.
“These animals sometimes fall through the cracks of what anybody can do,” Drumm said.
With complaints still coming in, officials decided to take action themselves.
Code enforcement officials were first enlisted to capture the animals, but the chickens’ speed and ability to fly made attempts nearly impossible.
Officials asked for agile teenagers to volunteer to capture the chickens, and one boy did succeed in capturing a couple, but it was still a limited success.
“They are wild animals, and they are very good at escaping and flying,” Drumm said.
Traps with high quality feed inside them were put out to lure in the chickens, but after a hen was captured, roosters started to guard the traps and keep chickens away from them, Drumm said.
Officials put alcohol in the birds’ food to try to slow them down, but that didn’t work either, Drumm said.
While officials considered the option of using other types of drugs or chemicals in a similar manner, they worried about the possible effects it might have on pets in the area.
Officials tried to get more ideas by speaking with other city officials and police officers who had similar problems.
Residents were asked if they owned the chickens, but no one said they did.
While no one claimed the chickens as their own, residents often take in chickens during the daytime, Drumm said.
Nearly a year after first attempts to solve the problem, officials were running out of options, and residents were getting impatient, Drumm said.
The chickens would have to be shot, Drumm said.
“We actually tried many avenues to capture them,” Drumm said. “It was our last option to consider shooting them.”
The City’s Last Option
It was the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 1 that Janet Lashells, a friend of David Smart, who resides on Southwest 2nd Place, was horrified to see firefighters running through yards and shooting the chickens.
“Those chickens in the neighborhood never bothered us,” she said.
A barn close to the area is home to a group of wild kittens that Lashells and Smart feed, Smart said.
The food inadvertently attracts many chickens to enter the barn, and Smart thinks this would have been a better way to go about catching the chickens, he said.
“I realize that they had to do something, but I think they could have handled it differently,” he said.
According to Smart, there were between 50 and 75 chickens in the area previous to the shooting, and he has seen very few since then.
“It sounded like a war zone over there,” he said. “It was pretty bad.”
Some residents said they were angry that they were not notified beforehand that officials would be shooting guns in the neighborhood.
Jenni Callahan, a resident on Seventh Avenue, said she wishes she was warned about the shooting so she would know to keep pets inside.
She witnessed the events while on her lunch break and later returned home to find two shot and injured chickens taking shelter near her house, she said.
One had been shot in the leg and another in the wing, she said.
“I just don’t feel people should be running around with .22s in a neighborhood,” she said.
Joan Lenne, another resident of Seventh Avenue, said that firefighters ran through her back yard without informing her first or gaining her permission.
Lashells was worried for the safety of pets in the area and any people who happened to be outside, she said.
“Anything that was moving, they were shooting,” she said. “There’s blood all over the place.”
But many safety precautions were taken to ensure an accident-free day, Drumm said.
Safety and Legality Issues
Officials decided to take action on a morning that school was in session, and most children would be at school and away from the area.
They used rifles with a small caliber specially made to not travel far, and firefighters only made clear shots that were low to the ground to avoid ricochet.
Firefighters were chosen over policemen because firefighters were able to assist without being pulled away from active duties, and they were also ready and willing to help, Drumm said.
Those who assisted had backgrounds in hunting and handling firearms, Drumm said.
Additionally, Police Chief Ray Kaminskas was at the site to secure the perimeter from people, pets and everything else not a chicken.
“I understand the concern, but we try to make it as safe out here as possible,” Kaminskas said.
This was also the reason that residents in the area were not notified beforehand that officials would be present to shoot the chickens, Drumm said.
Officials feared that if they announced the event, onlookers would be present and would be put at risk.
“We were hoping not to have anybody in the area,” he said.
According to Drumm, the city employees involved attempted to stay in the streets, which are city-owned property, by herding the chickens into those directions.
Since the streets in the area are often very narrow, it appears that residents’ yards start at the edge of the road, when in fact the legal roadway is 60 feet wide.
Additionally, Drumm said, there were several residents who came out of their homes and tried to assist the firefighters with directing the chickens.
In these cases, the firefighters may have entered residents’ yards with their permission.
City code allows code enforcement actions to be carried out even on private property, so even if the firefighters did have to enter residents’ yards, it was still within the city’s legal right to do so, Drumm said.
It was also legal to discharge the firearms within city limits, Drumm said, because Police Chief Kaminskas had given his authority to do so, and he was there to supervise.
The city code also allows nuisance birds that are within city limits to be destroyed, Drumm said.
Firefighters targeted the roosters, since they seemed to be a greater part of the problem than the hens.
When residents began to come outside and question the firefighters, officials decided to quit for the day so that they wouldn’t endanger those people, Drumm said.
In the end, about eight chickens were killed, and one chick was captured and donated to the Camp Kulaqua Zoo for their children’s education program.
Additionally, firefighters located several nesting sites.
Although the problem was not completely taken care of, Drumm said, officials can use these nesting sites to capture more chickens in the future.
Also, since many of the roosters were killed, hens will not have many opportunities to create future hatchlings, Drumm said.
“They will live out their life and not move on to additional generations,” he said.
City officials are still seeking more alternatives with how to handle the chicken problem.
After hearing about the events last week, a man from Gilchrist County called officials to tell them that he has a Labrador Retriever rescued after Hurricane Katrina that can catch chickens without injuring them, Kaminskas said.
Officials tested the dog out on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and had positive results, he said.
Anyone else with ideas on how to approach the chicken problem is welcome to call, he said.
“I just want them gone,” he said. “If someone wants to come out here and catch a chicken, they can.”
Problems with wild chickens in cities often begin when people move from the country to the city and attempt to bring their chickens along, Drumm said.
But they are difficult to keep in small yards and often break free.
Other times, problems arise from parents who give their children baby chicks for Easter. The kids then set the chickens free when they get big.
Wherever their origin, the wild chickens that still roam free in the area seem to have evaded defeat once again.
“We’ve been listening to roosters for over a year,” said Joyce LaCagnina, a resident of the area. “And they’re still crowing.”
I could deal with a little temporary blood and feather issues over a continuing chicken shit and scratching my car repeatedly issue. Much ado about nothing, as usual.
With that many "wild" chickens in the area i wouldn't need to buy any at the store for a long time. maybe they can try hawks ETC.
Wish we had wild chickens in my area. I'd be eatin good for a while.
If you replace the word "chicken" with "velociraptor", it becomes a pretty good story.
Good thing they didnt have the JBT's do it, then all the neborhood dogs would be dead.