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Posted at 03:47 PM ET, 10/04/2010

Wild animals and their fans await key Council vote

Several D.C. Council members appear skeptical of a bill by Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) that would give additional protections to wild animals that wander into homes or yards of District residents.

The "wildlife protection" bill, which the council will hold a preliminary vote on Tuesday, would toughen requirements for wildlife control contractors to try to guarantee the use of humane and non-lethal force in the capture of nuisance and unwanted animals.

"This should be entirely uncontroversial," Cheh said in an interview. "It protects wildlife and it protects consumers."

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 or foxes. It also bans the use of poison to control pigeons and sparrows.

Under the legislation, wildlife control contractors would be urged to use non-lethal traps for animals; rats and mice are exempt from the life-saving protections, meaning homeowners could still trap and kill them.

Wildlife and pest control contractors would be required to check to their traps every 24 hours to make sure an animals 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."

The proposal does not apply to Rock Creek Park, which is governed by federal regulations. So the city still won't be able to intervene in the ongoing debate over whether the National Park Service should allow lethal force to curb the deer population.

The Humane Society and other animal rights groups are enthusiastic supporters of Cheh's legislation. But D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and other members refused to answer questions from reporters about whether they will vote for the legislation.

Council members appeared especially troubled by a provision in the bill requiring wildlife control operators to "make every reasonable effort to preserve family units using humane eviction or displacement and reunion strategies."

Cheh said the intent of that provision of the bill is to make sure baby raccoon or foxes are not "left out there to die" if their mothers are captured.

Cheh said she still expects to make "some changes" to the bill before Tuesday's vote. But she predicted the bill be approved because, she said, District residents support the goals of the legislation.

"They don't want animals choked or drowned or left on sticky traps to die in the elements," Cheh said.

Cheh has already made one major revision to the bill since she introduced it last fall. The initial bill included a provision of that would have made it illegal to disturb hibernating bats for the winter. But the committee killed that section of the legislation.

--Tim Craig

By Washington Post Editors  |  03:47 PM ET, 10/04/2010

Categories:  Tim Craig

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