Bird owners speak out against changes to Wareham poultry regulations

Oct 17, 2018

Changes to town poultry regulations drew a crowd at the Wednesday night Board of Health meeting with several bird owners concerned for the future of their flocks.

The changes, proposed by Town Health Agent Robert Ethier and Harbormaster Garry Buckminster, are designed to alleviate an influx of bird-related noise complaints the Board of Health received in recent months.

According to Ethier, roosters have been the number one culprit.

“The issue is much worse than it has ever been,” Ethier said.

He added in that in some cases, birds were also wandering off their owner’s property and destroying neighborhood lawns.

Poultry in Wareham is defined as any domesticated bird including chickens, turkeys, ducks, roosters, geese and other such species.

The board ultimately voted to approve two of the three changes to poultry regulations after pushback and tearful testimony from town bird owners.

One change approved at the meeting will now require all poultry owners to register their flocks with the Board of Health at the beginning of each year and to obtain a poultry permit.

In addition to keeping track of bird owners, this system would also help the board to address any potential cases of avaian flu in the future.

Avian flu, also known as H5N1, is easily passed from sick birds to humans and has been known to carry a high mortality rate. While there are no current cases of the bird flu in the United States, several instances of the disease have been reported in Europe and Asia.

A second approved change will now allow the board to fine poultry owners upon observed violation by town officials or written complaint. First, second and third violations within a 12-month period will cost flock owners $50, $75 and $100 respectively.

“I feel what Ethier has brought forward is very reasonable,” said Buckminster. “There’s nothing out of the ordinary about these regulations.”

Poultry owners rallied against Ethier’s third change, however, which would have required roosters to be kept on no less than 1 acre of land and only for the purposes of breeding.

“If I owned the two houses next to me, it wouldn’t make a difference,” said Heather Latham, a resident on Indian Neck Road. “Acreage doesn’t stop sound”

Latham keeps a single rooster on her property which belongs to her disabled daughter, Olivia. According to her, all but one neighbor signed a petition in favor of keeping the animal where it was.

“If I have to keep the rooster in my basement I will,” she said. “But I can’t take him away from my daughter.”

Latham added that she was also upset with the board for not notifying poultry owners before voting to change town regulations.

“I didn’t know this was happening until an officer pulled up my driveway,” she said. “I follow the bylaws as best I can and we as bird owners deserve to be informed.”

Jason MacKenzie of Cromesett Road agreed.

“If you’ve already checked in with your neighbors, what’s the matter with it?” he said. “I hear dogs more than I hear my own rooster.”

Following further discussion, Board of Health Chair Amy Wiegandt stated that she would not be opposed to wiping the acreage requirement from the regulations.

“We can always revisit,” she said. “But right now, it seems like over reinforcement.”