WHITEFISH - Back when Herbert Hoover promised Americans a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, he could not have guessed that what people really wanted was a chicken in every garage.

But that's what Whitefish wanted, and that's what Whitefish got. This week, the City Council in this tiny resort town voted 5-1 to allow urban chickens. Council members also debated ducks, but ultimately opted not to make mallards legal.

"Personally, I was worried the ducks might be louder," said Councilwoman Nancy Woodruff. "I figure we can start small, and if it works out we can always expand it."

Previously, residents wanting to keep a hen in town were forced to apply for a conditional use permit. And at $990 per permit, household hens were rare birds, indeed.

"To me, a thousand dollars for a chicken seems pretty ridiculous," council member Shirley Jacobson told the Missoulian last month.

At that time, however, the fate of fowl was uncertain, as the local planning board had just balked at allowing backyard birds.

Concerns, said planning director Dave Taylor, free-ranged from noise to smell to predatory dogs.

But chicken champions rallied, submitted solutions, confronted the peckish planning board yet again, and on Monday won the right to keep up to five hens (no roosters, though) as pets, not subject to the usual livestock rules.

No license, no leash required.

Only one councilman, Turner Askew, was left with egg on his face as the lone dissenter.

He said the birds might attract predators, but Jacobson called his opposition "hilarious."

Across the country, neighborhood coops are cropping up, with recent reports in the nation's media chronicling an illicit urban chicken movement, which often operates afoul of local laws. They even have an online henhouse, at www.

urbanchickenunderground.

In Whitefish, the hens came home to roost only after local residents and a few rural chicken farmers began crowing the benefits of feathered friends. Chickens fertilize the garden, proponents said, and eat bugs, clean up yard waste, and make eggs, too.

"It's important that we know where our food comes from," said local farmer Pam Gerwe. "Kids should know that eggs don't come from cartons."

They already know that in lots of towns, including Missoula, where a few household hens are well within the law. Convincing critics to cross the road, however, is not always easy.

In Montana's Garden City, for instance, city leaders were barraged with warnings of cannibal chickens and feral birds and poop in the aquifer, not to mention a chicken-suited poet and T-shirts that read "I'm pro-chicken and I vote."

But since chickens were decriminalized in Missoula, not a peep's been heard of cannibal hens.

Woodruff expects a similar silence in Whitefish, now that her town's hatched its own plan.

"There wasn't any serious community opposition," she said. "It's just not really a radical idea for most people.

"The most painful part was the puns," she added. "Even our own staff was warning us about putting too many eggs in one basket."

Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at mjamison@missoulian.com

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