The Santa Cruz County planning department has graciously taken the time to look into the issue of expediting or exempting the permit process so people can build "biosecure" chicken runs that help to protect poultry from disease, such as bird flu. This petition is in support of that process. They are very busy and we are grateful that they are willing to take the time to do this.
Many experts believe that bird flu could read California soon, as stated in the article "Calif. Lab Helping to Lead Bird Flu Fight" By Scott Lindlaw:
"Many experts, including the state's top veterinarian, Richard Breitmeyer, believe those [California] migratory routes could intersect with Asian bird migrations and bring the disease to California as early as this spring or summer."
While the infection rate to humans is very low, and requires close contact with poultry (so neighbors need not be concerned about poultry next door), the World Health Organization says this in the "Avian influenza ("bird flu") - Fact sheet:"
"Investigations of all the most recently confirmed human cases, in China, Indonesia, and Turkey, have identified direct contact with infected birds as the most likely source of exposure."
And the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration says in the "Avian Influenza Protecting Poultry Workers at Risk" bulletin:
"The virus is excreted in the droppings of infected birds and in their respiratory secretions. Transmission to humans is thought to have resulted from contact with infected sick or dead poultry or their droppings, or contact with contaminated litter or surfaces (e.g., egg flats). The suspected routes of entry of the virus to humans are the mouth, nose, eyes, and lungs. Although the human health risk of low-pathogenic avian influenza viruses is not well established, protective measures should be taken by persons likely to have prolonged direct or indirect exposure to any avian influenza virus in an enclosed setting."
To prevent backyard birds from being exposed to avian influenza, the California Department of Agriculture says you should "Protect birds from wild birds." To do so, you would want to put poultry in enclosures that keep out wild birds and prevent bird feces from falling from above. For example, a run with small wire fencing on the sides and a solid top would help, as well as following other biosecurity procedures as outlined in the US Department of Agriculture publication, "Questions and Answers: Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza."
In other areas of the world, and in Southern California during the Exotic Newcastle's Disease outbreak, millions of birds were killed to control a disease outbreak. Poultry keepers in Santa Cruz County would like to be able to be proactive and build protective runs for their birds to protect the birds from exposure to diseases spread by wild birds and to protect themselves from exposure to avian influenza virus. Since many people have runs that are open on the top or let the poultry free-range in fenced enclosures during the day, and because it can take over a month to plan or build the proper enclosure, we are asking the planning department to expedite or exempt certain structures so we are able to protect our birds. These measures can include all or some of the following:
- Allowing people to cover existing poultry runs.
- Allowing people to build new biosecure runs that give each bird 10 square feet and 2 square feet in housing, up to the maximum birds allowed by zoning restrictions.
- Expediting the permit process for biosecure housing.
- Relaxing the restrictions as to where the housing can be placed.
If bird flu does come to Santa Cruz County, people with biosecure housing would be able to preserve their flocks, assure neighbors and family members that they are safe, and prevent the spread of the virus in domestic poultry and to cats and dogs who might consume infected poultry. In other areas of the world, when bird flu arrived there, some people let their poultry free or dumped them at animal control over unfounded fears. By being proactive, we can reduce the impact on animal control and prevent unfounded panic in our community. However, since bird flu could arrive at any time, people need to get started on their runs now. After bird flu arrives, it is likely too late. That is why we need help from planning to be able to construct the runs now.