No Harm, No Fowl 

Chickens sound like an unlikely topic for an ongoing political dispute, but a few Missoula residents’ desire for farm fresh eggs in their backyards has led to exactly that.

The urban chicken controversy started in May when Ward 3’s Stacey Rye first convened the Urban Fowl Subcommittee after several Ward 3 residents approached her to request a change to a city ordinance banning chickens. Ever since, several other members of the council have been pushing the issue into debate, which occasionally has reached the point of hilarity.

“Though I’ve joked about it, it’s a serious, serious matter,” Ward 4 councilman Jon Wilkins deadpanned at Monday night’s meeting. His comment drew laughs, but he apparently wasn’t kidding.

Ward 4 councilman Jerry Ballas and Ward 5’s Dick Haines seconded Wilkins, saying the noise and mess would be a burden on city agencies like Animal Control.

Several members of the public, who have their own issues with urban chicken ownership, joined the anti-chicken crusade.

Nikki Billingsley’s logic for maintaining the ordinance was more pragmatic than that of the council members she sided with. She says her two-year-old son is allergic to chicken feathers, and suffers severe allergy induced asthma, which has her concerned.

“I’m asking you to not [change the ordinance], because doing that will kill my son,” she said. She, apparently, wasn’t kidding either.

Tuesday morning, Rye said she will check on Billingsley’s claim, and expressed frustration with her fellow council members.

“I don’t think they’ve received the education on this issue,” she said.

“I went into the subcommittee with a lot of preconceived notions,” she said. But after researching the matter further, and learning that chickens are allowed in Butte and Helena, she thinks it’s a good idea.

Rye said the majority of comments she’s received from the public have been pro-chicken.

“It’s actually a great thing for sustainability,” she said.

The debate, serious or in jest, is set to continue during next week’s Monday night council meeting.
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