Belgrade group hopes to legalize pet chickens
BELGRADE, Mont. - A group of people in Belgrade is fighting to legalize raising chickens in backyards within the city limits, and it isn't the first time. Here's some background: In 2009, an ordinance authorizing the keeping of domestic chickens was brought to the Belgrade City Council. The ordinance would have allowed Belgrade residents to keep up to 6 female chickens with the purchase of a $15 permit. But, the measure was voted down by the council 3-3. Similar ordinances are on the books in Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell, and other Montana cities. Belgrade resident Sarah Ude has big plans for her backyard. She dreams of turning it into a vegetable garden and raising chickens to produce eggs and help fertilize the plants. But there's one problem: right now, it's against the law to keep chickens as pets within Belgrade city limits. "I think Belgrade people want to have these chickens," Ude said, "and have fun with it and have it be a hobby." That's why she created the Facebook group "Backyard Chickens for Belgrade." "I suspected there was community support here," she explained, "and just out of curiosity, I started up a Facebook page last Wednesday just to see what would happen. And we're at about 160 likes." The positive response surprised her, and has motivated her to move forward. On Sunday, the new group met to discuss what they can do to bring about change. "We are seeking the support of our surrounding chicken friendly communities," Ude said. "We're going to be reaching out to city council members, and mayors, and animal control." This idea isn't new. In 2009, the Belgrade City Council voted down an ordinance to allow chickens, but it was close, 3 to 3. "I think we just need to educate people," said Ude, "There's a lot of misinformation out there." Ude said their first step is to become as educated on the subject as possible in order to combat possible opposition. Ude explained people who oppose pet chickens worry about the noise, the smell, possible decreases in their property values, or allergies from the chickens. Ude said while she believes these concerns are valid, many other cities have successfully integrated chickens into their own communities. "I do hope that this time around we're more organized and they get the point that we are the majority, this is what we want," she said. "And we're not asking for something that's far out of reach. This is a nationwide movement and hundreds of cities and towns across the country are doing it. Why not us?" Ude said the group hopes to then circulate a petition around town to gauge the support for this type of movement. After that, the group will take it to City Council for another shot of legalizing chickens in the city. "You can't change the whole world, but you can change this little small part of it," Ude said. In 2011, Kalispell limited the number of chickens in their law to 6 per household, after residents complained their neighbors' chickens negatively impacted their lives. Backyard Chickens for Belgrade hope to circulate their petition in May, and bring their cause before City Council shortly after that.