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Posted at 12:18 PM ET, 10/05/2010

City's critters win protections

The raccoons, opossums and foxes that roam District neighborhoods can breathe a bit easier.

The D.C. Council gave tentative approval Tuesday to a bill that would implement tough new standards for how animal and pest control companies rid District homes and properties of unwanted wild animals.

The bill, which does not apply to residents or property managers, requires that animal control operators take "all reasonable steps" to try to guarantee the use of humane and non-lethal force in the capture of nuisance and unwanted animals.

"The purpose of the bill is to protect consumers but also wildlife," said Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), the lead sponsor of the legislation.

Called the Wildlife Protection Act, the bill outlaws the use of glue, leg hold and "body-gripping" or body crushing traps or snares to catch nuisance animals such as raccoons and foxes. It also bans the use of poison to control pigeons and sparrows.

The legislation exempts rats and mice, meaning lethal traps can still be used to eliminate those critters.

But other wild animals would have among the strictest protections in the nation.

Wildlife and pest control contractors would be required to check to their traps every 24 hours to make sure an animal is not confined in one of them. Once caught, wildlife control operators would be required to take an injured animal to a rehabilitation center. Uninjured animals could either be released on site or transferred to "a safe location where nuisance problems are not likely to occur."

When a wild animal gets separated for her young, contractors also will be urged to take "every reasonable effort to preserve family units using humane eviction or displacement and reunion strategies."

"We are going to keep the families together," Cheh said.

Before the vote, Cheh told her colleagues that most local animal control companies supported the legislation. But the National Pest Management Association warns the bill will increase homeowners' pest control costs and lead to more rabid animals roaming city streets.

"The bill bans the use of several longstanding and widely used wildlife management tools," the association said in a statement. "The arbitrary elimination of such tools will result in a loss of consumer choice for District consumers as well as a dramatic increase in the cost of professional wildlife management services."

Specifically, the association said wildlife managers would no longer be able to use non-lethal glue boards to catch snakes.

Cheh countered, "These traps, maybe for a particular snake, may not be so horrible, but they are horrible for other animals that may be trapped in them."

But the legislation also could lead to other conflicts. Although rats and mice are exempt from Cheh's bill, the association said snap traps are sometimes needed to control moles and chipmunks.

"To be clear, homeowners dealing with nuisance wildlife will now be very limited in how they or the professional wildlife management companies they hire deal with invading wildlife," the association stated.

The association warned that District homeowners and their families will be increasingly "threatened" by rabid raccoons and other animals.

"They will simply have to tolerate the animal, hope it does not attack and that it moves on to threaten a neighboring household."

Cheh disputes that the legislation will hinder efforts to control rabid animals. She notes the legislation includes a provision allowing lethal force to be used for animals threatening public safety.

In the days leading up to the vote, several council members appeared skeptical of the bill. But it passed unanimously on a voice vote. A final vote will be held in two weeks.

By  |  12:18 PM ET, 10/05/2010

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