Ruffled Feathers

By Beacon Staff

I’ve written before in this blog about my embarrassing love for “weird news” stories. Usually, I have to rely on other states or even countries to provide this fodder, namely – as Beacon reporter Dan Testa frequently points out – Florida or Germany. (Seriously. Once you start paying attention you’ll notice odd news comes from these places with abnormally high frequency.) But right now a quirky argument that took place first in Missoula, and now in Whitefish, has me chuckling.

An urban chicken ordinance in both towns has ruffled feathers, so to speak, in recent months. Chickens fall under livestock rather than pets in both cities’ ordinances. So, those who want to raise chickens in their backyards for eggs, manure, insect control, or companionship, had to pay for an expensive conditional use permit and go before the city council for a public hearing.

Opponents of changing the ordinance to allow a few chickens in residential zones have repeatedly pointed to health, noise and regulatory concerns, while supporters emphasize the importance of sustainability, self-sufficiency, and locally-sourced food.

Missoula, after months of debate, approved an ordinance last December to allow up to six hens in residential zones. Now, Whitefish is having a similar discussion.

The debate over chickens has been contentious—and, inherently, comical.

NewWest reporters put together this well-done (and entertaining) video on the debate in Missoula. It begins with a play on the intro to the TV show Law and Order: “In Missoula, Montana there are two separate but equally important groups: the people who raise chickens, and those who oppose them. These are their stories.”

And the Missoula meetings proved funny: At the final hearing, where the council approved the ordinance, a man came to the meeting dressed in a chicken costume. He later changed to a Santa outfit and wished council members a “Merry Chickenmas” in a variation of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: “The chickens were all huddled outside the city limits in pens / Awaiting the decision to stay put or gather speed, put on mittens and en masse descend,” he read.

It remains to be seen whether the Whitefish chicken debate will produce similar nuttiness.