D.C. Council tentatively approves bill on animal- and pest-control firms

By Tim Craig
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 11:38 PM

Furry critters across the District - with the exception of rats and mice - soon could be getting a reprieve from animal-control specialists who rid homes and properties of wild animals.

The D.C. Council gave tentative approval Tuesday to a bill to impose some of the nation's strictest standards for _blankhow animal- and pest-control companies can remove raccoons, opossums, foxes, snakes and other nuisance animals from lawns, attics and basements.

The bill, sponsored by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), prohibits wildlife-control operators from using glue, leg-hold, and "body-gripping" or "body-crushing" traps or snares when capturing unwanted animals.

The measure, which the council must vote on a second time, also bans the use of poison to control pigeons and sparrows.

Homeowners and property managers are exempt from the legislation, meaning that they still can take matters into their own hands instead of calling in a licensed professional. But Cheh said she hopes her legislation sends a powerful message that residents and wild animals can coexist peacefully.

"We have these conflicts now with wildlife in urban areas as they are pushed out of other areas, and it does create tension sometimes," Cheh said. "We want to take action, but we don't have to be cruel if we don't have to be."

Gene Harrington, director of government affairs for the _blankNational Pest Management Association, called Cheh's bill "the most overreaching proposal that we have seen taken seriously."

"Some of these individual tools are banned in some jurisdictions, but nowhere has such a far-reaching ban been implemented," said Harrington, who predicted that the cost of pest control in the District will soar.

In the days leading up to the vote, several council members appeared reluctant to embrace the bill, raising questions about how it would be enforced and whether it should be a priority when the city is facing a $175 million shortfall. But the legislation passed unanimously on a voice vote.

"It's all related to quality of life," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). "What you do to the least of these, you do to me."

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

When wild animals become separated from their young, contractors will be urged to take "every reasonable effort to preserve family units using humane eviction or displacement and reunion strategies."

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