Hoping to make sure a baby owl is never again taken from a popular nest in Mount Joy, borough officials took the first steps toward implementing multiple rules to prohibit falconry at Little Chiques Park.
“We are going to move forward and act on all of them,” said Joshua Deering, vice president of Mount Joy Borough Council and chairman of the Public Works Committee.
The committee met Monday evening to discuss the proposed rule changes, which would ban removing wildlife from the park and prohibit climbing trees.
That’s in addition to wholly banning both hunting and falconry — the technique of using trained raptors, mostly hawks, falcons and owls, to capture prey.
The centuries-old hunting practice has been a point of both regular discussion and controversy in the borough since March 21, when a man was spotted scaling a sycamore tree in the park, where a great horned owl had nested with two of its babies.
The man removed one of the young birds, sparking immediate concern and anger among both locals and wildlife photographers.
It was even reported to the law enforcement by some who feared the bird had been taken illegally.
It wasn’t, according to officials at the state Game Commission, who later revealed that the bird was taken legally by a hunter permitted to practice falconry.
Many said they were fearful it could deter great horned owls from returning to the spot, where they have nested yearly for decades, attracting nature-loving tourists from hours away.
Borough resident Tim Mateer honed in on that point while addressing the committee Monday evening.
“Obviously, there are a lot of people that are really outraged,” said Mateer, who’s regularly photographed the birds and often spoken with visitors who’ve traveled to the borough to do the same.
“For a number of these people, Mount Joy has become an important yearly stop,” he said, explaining they patronize local restaurants, gas stations and other businesses while visiting. “Many of them do spend money here.”
Sandy Christian, whose home is adjacent to the park, also spoke about the friendships she’s formed with those who visit the nest, previously pointing out that she’s spoken with visitors from as far away as Canada.
Deering said it was Christian who suggested the rule changes, with hopes of preserving the nest.
On Monday, Deering and his colleagues on the committee — council members Mary S. Ginder and Bob Ruschke — were in agreement that the rules should be updated.
However, borough Mayor Tim Bradley asked that they include exceptions that could allow some of the prohibited activities in certain cases, but only if borough approval is requested and granted.
He also suggested that the borough’s police chief and Public Safety Committee should review the proposal to put up signs about the bans on hunting and falconry because they have more insight about how rules are enforced.
Bradley said he was “appalled” by the owl’s removal and called the birds “a community resource.”
After the meeting, Deering explained that borough staff will follow that direction, updating rules and working with their solicitor to ensure changes are legal.
There’s also a chance surveillance cameras could be budgeted for and installed in the area in 2022.
He guessed the proposed changes could appear before the Public Works Committee again next month. If members agree, they could then be forwarded to Mount Joy Borough Council, which would have to grant final approval before they are implemented, he said, hopeful that could happen in June.
Though he could only speak for himself, Deering said he guesses his colleagues will support the proposed changes, especially after the owl’s removal attracted so much attention.
“I don’t see it being a controversial issue,” Deering said.