Friday, September 20, 2013

Regulating raccoons in Alabama

Kim Severson reports in today's New York Times on a new edict by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources telling 72 groups and individuals not to rehabilitate certain animals.  Already on that list were feral pigs, coyotes, bats and foxes, but now raccoons have been added to the list, with the agency citing rabies prevention and food chain balance as reasons for its decision.

Those who rehabilitate 'coons and other wild animals--they call themselves rehabbers--have in the past had permits from the Dept. of Conservation to do so.  They are up in arms over the new edict, which presumably puts their permits in jeopardy.  The rehabbers are quite committed to their 'coons, which are apparently cuddly and easy to love and train when they are very young.  John Russ, a Marine veteran who has a 144-acre animal sanctuary in Woodville, Alabama, alleges what Severson characterizes as "an inherent anti-raccoon bias" by state and local wildlife officials.  Severson quotes Russ:
These guys, they have some issue with raccoons.  They always have.
Rehabbers also blame hunters and a "hunters-first mentality," and they have vowed to fight the ban, even if it brings trouble given that Alabama has a law against keeping a wild animal without a permit.  

Severson explains that the rehabbers are a remarkably "tight-knit group that has worked for decades to develop national guidelines. They share best practices, like what to feed a baby squirrel, how large a raccoon nesting box should be or how to make sure animals do not get too accustomed to humans while they are nursed back to health.

As for the state of Alabama, it insists "there is nothing nefarious in the new policy," which "was developed not out of a dislike for rehabbers or raccoons, but after a year of study and consultation with federal wildlife and rabies experts."  Ray Metzler, assistant chief with the Alabama agency, explained that it is part of an effort to standardize policies and also regulate those who remove nuisance wildlife, e.g., a snake in a garage.
We are not trying to put them out of business by any means.  The point is we would like for people to leave wildlife alone.  That raccoon that’s accustomed to eating out of the dog bowl — it’s not going to survive in the wild.
Metzler noted that the rehabbers are still permitted to help rabbits, deer and squirrels.

Speaking (a few sentences back) abut the need to remove animals, see this NPR story from a few weeks ago about a man hired to free Dallas, Texas of feral pigs.  Nearly half of the three million feral pigs in the United States live in Texas, it reports.  In Dallas, the pigs are "bathing in rivers, spreading diseases, ruining the parks — basically, turning the city into a pig sty."

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