Results from the upcoming Ogden City Council elections could determine the fate of backyard chickens in Ogden for the next four years. Although not directly noticeable by looking through the city ordinances online, chickens are not allowed within Ogden city limits.
Bart Blair, city councilman for Seat B, tried to explain the situation.
"Right now chickens are not allowed in the city," he said. "There was an ordinance presented that included the 75 feet language, but it was voted down."
This begs the question, if the ordinance was voted down, how did it end up in the online city code and why hasn't the online code been updated yet?
Some Ogden residents, like Dave and Shauna Wolfgram, bought chickens after looking up the city code online, only to discover the code was incorrect.
"We looked on the Web page and it said 75 feet from the house and that whole thing. So we got them, and then there were issues later," Dave Wolfgram said.
Dave Wolfgram said he has attended city council meetings to plead his case and collected signatures in support of backyard chickens at Ogden's Farmers Market, but said his efforts have been largely ignored by the city council.
"I don't know what it is that people are so afraid of. On city ordinance you can have a hundred pigeons and no chickens. It's a right to be able to live sustainably and consciously and know where your food comes from. We're not going to go buy a Jersey milk cow and stick it in our yard. We don't have a hundred chickens."
Turner C. Bitton, running for Ogden City Council District 3, is disappointed with the city code's representation online.
"I think it's extremely important to have the up-to-date code online. If (citizens) don't understand the ordinances, and if members of our community can't access these ordinances, then we're obviously not going to be able to enforce them," he said.
Turner added that he thinks current council members are approaching the backyard chicken issue from a skewed perspective.
"I think it's interesting that we view it from the perspective of enforcement. The people that want chickens will probably take the steps to have them regardless of whether they get licensed or not. But people like me, people who are focused on responsibly owning these chickens, are the least of our worries, and I would say those are the people lobbying the city council for us to allow chickens," Turner said.
Doug Stephens, an incumbent councilman in District 3 and Turner's opponent, claimed there isn't enough funding in the city budget to allow for effective enforcement of a backyard chicken ordinance.
"In Ogden, we only license 25 percent of the dogs, and we have a large number of dogs in the community," Stephens said. "If we compound that, how are they going to enforce the chicken ordinance, when they can only fully license 25 percent of the dogs? If you have an ordinance with no funding, then it's very hard to administer that ordinance. The funding has to precede the ordinance."
Stephens added that not all Ogden residents can be trusted to take care of their chickens.
"There are individuals in the city who would take care of their chickens, but there are other individuals who would not. And what you're introducing to the community is the possibility of having raccoons and skunks and rodents and mice and rats in those areas where people have not effectively taken care of their chickens," Stephens said.
Turner said many things can attract pests into downtown neighborhoods, but they're all things that can be corrected with code enforcement, and he doesn't believe it's something that is going to cost the city a lot of money.
"I would say that if you leave the lid off your garbage can or if you're setting garbage bags full of food outside your back door at night and not putting them in the garbage can, those are things that can attract these pests. The vast majority of people don't want rats and mice in their yards, so they're not going to let their chickens become unkempt. We spend a lot of money on code enforcement, but we also get a lot of revenue from code enforcement. I don't think that the costs are as inflated as Doug thinks they are. Neighbors will watch neighbors, and if I let my chickens get out of control, you can bet that my neighbors are going to be calling animal control. Self-policing is going to occur," Turner said.
Courtney White, Bart Blair's opponent in the upcoming city council elections, said the butchering of fowl in residential neighborhoods has been an issue raised in past debates.
"A few people may be worried that residential butchering would be commonplace, leading to sanitation issues or even trauma for children. I don't believe that residential butchering should be allowed. Ogden residents should be free to raise hens for egg production, and if they are inclined to butcher them, they should contract with farmers and butchers who operate in appropriate parts of the city."
White said, if he is elected, he will support smart proposals for backyard chicken ordinances.
"I fall into the camp that believes that as long as you are not hurting others, what you do on your own property is nobody's business but your own. In most cases, raising chickens falls under that rule. I'd be more than willing to propose and support changes that allowed for the raising of hens in residential areas. Of course, some regulations may need to be included to deal with people who violate the rights of their neighbors," White said.
Neil Garner, councilman for District 1, claimed that he and current city council members are trying to find a way for a backyard chicken ordinance to work for everyone. However, he doesn't believe it's possible right now because of pest issues, safety issues and the added strain an ordinance would place on animal control.
If backyard chickens are to be part of Ogden's future, a changing of the guard may be necessary. Bitton and White, both running against incumbent councilmen, have voiced their support of backyard chickens, and all the candidates for Ogden City Council Seat A (Marcia White, Stephen Thompson, and Sheri Morreale) have said they would be open to considering a backyard chicken ordinance.
Stephens, Garner, and Blair, on the other hand, have repeatedly voted against backyard chicken proposals and do not believe a progressive backyard chicken ordinance is a viable addition to Ogden's near future.
Shauna Wolfgram hopes they're wrong.
"We hope that people are put in place who will allow the ordinance of chickens to go through," she said.
Dave and Shauna Wolfgram said chickens are an important part of their lifestyle, and that having hens teaches their children an important lesson about where food really comes from. They hope people will educate themselves on the realities of owning backyard chickens and, through that education, some of the fear associated with backyard chickens will dissolve.
Kathi Benson, a resident of South Ogden who has chickens and recently received a warning from Animal Control, has hope that a backyard chicken ordinance in Ogden could help her case in South Ogden.
"We're all trying to be a little more self-sufficient, so this is my part to be self-sufficient," she said.
If you're interested in raising backyard chickens, many educational resources can be found online at www.backyardchickens.com. Local support can be found on the Ogden Urban Chicken Fans Facebook page.