Chickens have lived with humans for more than 9,000 years. They have been a safe and productive part of American life since colonial days. D.C. citizens have kept chickens in the District since it was founded. And today, chickens are legal, albeit regulated, in the City. We want to keep it that way. Chickens are amusing, docile, safe, easy to keep, and are interesting pets and companions. They produce fresh eggs. Our children love them.
We want D.C. to be one of the growing numbers of cities like New York, Seattle, Miami, Anchorage, Atlanta, Portland, Denver, and Cleveland that support chicken ownership as an eco-friendly, sustainable, and fun. In fact, Austin, Texas actively supports chicken ownership with a stipend because chickens reduce landfill burdens by consuming and composting kitchen scraps.
There is no compelling reason to ban chickens in D.C. Chickens pose no health or safety risk. Of the CDC-estimatd 1 Million cases of salmonella in the US each year, fewer than 500 are generally attributable to handing chickens anywhere, and common sense conduct eliminates the risk (wash your hands, says the CDC). Chickens are so safe that D.C. Public Schools puts them on elementary school playgrounds and runs educational programs where children learns about chickens, sustainable living, and responsibility.
There is no legitimate noise concern; hens are about as noisy as cats. There is no legitimate waste concern; chicken poop is a great component for compost. Moreover, there are plenty of Washingtonians (east of the River and elsewhere) who live in food “deserts” without close access to fresh food. Backyard chickens provide fresh, nutritional eggs and could be a game-changer in some neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, the budget proposal seems to be a vindictive reaction by bureaucrats at the Department of Health to the fact that some of us had to sue the city to preserve our rights, and the Department of Health has been forced to settle two lawsuits regarding the legality of backyard hens in D.C.
We believe the current regulations–e.g., coop must be 50 feet from a property; neighbors must support it–work just fine. But if the District wants to change these regulations, it should do so using customary democratic processes, including notice and comment and the chance for citizens to meaningfully participate.