HOUGHTON — Beyond banning the harming of birds, Houghton’s regulation of animals had been fairly open-ended.
In response to a growing number of questions from residents about what animals were permitted in the city, Houghton City Council approved a new animal ordinance at its meeting Wednesday.
Established as one of the most contentious issues, honeybee colonies are allowed in non-agricultural zones with several restrictions, including a two-hive limit and a minimum property size of 11,000 square feet. They must also be kept at least 25 feet from the property line; if a 6-foot flyway barrier is built, the minimum distance is reduced to 10.
The ordinance also allows six rabbits and four poultry per property, respectively. Those numbers had been lower in an earlier draft of the ordinance, which also barred bee colonies in non-agricultural zones of the city, which also barred animals such as male poultry and venomous insects.
Other sections of the ordinance included outlining sanitation and animal care requirements, and bans on the ground feeding of wild birds.
As had been the case at previous hearings, the section on honeybees drew the most public comment at Wednesday’s hearing.
Paul Doskey, a professor at Michigan Technological University’s College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, argued beekeeping within city limits could reduce biodiversity as larger non-native honeybees outcompete native bees for scarce resources.
He has an acre and a half of land where he’s planting wildflowers, prairie grass and a bee lawn for native pollinators.
“Honeybees can forage anywhere on anybody’s property…” he said. “I’m spending all this money on resources to plant these wildflowers, but somebody could have hives in the urban area, and they could be using my flowers that I’ve spent all this money for, and profiting off of that.”
Several members of the Copper Country Beekeeping Club spoke in support of the ordinance.
Although large number of hives in the area could degrade the environment, Houghton would probably only have a small number of beekeepers, said member Joe Azzarello.
“Beekeepers, we feed our bees,” he said. “We don’t send them out there and say, ‘See if you can steal the food away from the other guys.’ … I don’t think there’s going to be any measurable degradation in the number of natural pollinators, which includes bees and other insects beyond bees.”
Native bees also forage in the morning, versus afternoon for the honeybees, said member Cathy Azzarello.
The ordinance passed 6-1, with Councilor Mike Needham voting in opposition.
He said Joe Azzarello’s comparisons to other impacts on nature, such as birds killed by housecats, were a false equivalence.
“I think every little bit that we do a thing that can affect the balance of nature, we should pay attention to that,” he said. “I think it’s not good if we say ‘Well, it’s not that much. We should not worry about it.’”
Mayor Pro Tem Joan Suits responded to another concern about hives attracting bears and other wildlife. Beekeeper friends of hers who live in an area where bears are rampant told her the bears usually go after bird feeders instead.
“If suddenly we’re overrun with hives and bears then obviously we’re going to need to talk again, but I think this is a very reasonable compromise,” she said.
In other action, the city:
• Scheduled public hearings for June 14 on the city budget and the five-year capital improvement plan.
• Approved an amendment to the Lakeshore Drive Corridor Project Engineering Agreement for additional payment and additional services. The amount increased from $184,000 to $292,000. Changes included additional landscaping work, surveying and design.
• Approved putting a 0.1-acre parcel for sale just outside the city limits on Sharon Avenue. The city had been unaware it owned the property until recent title work was performed on another piece of property in Portage Township. The sale price was set at the eventual appraisal value, plus the cost of the appraisal.
• Approved the use of the Kestner Waterfront Park pavilion by Grace United Methodist Church for an outdoor worship service from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. July 30.
• Approved support for Houghton High School’s Senior Lock-In. The city will pay $500 if 25 students assist the city’s beautification committee, and $750 if 35 students show up.