D.C. initially backs bill on pest control

By Tim Craig
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

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 firms 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."

Soaring costs warned

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 warned of soaring pest-control costs.

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."

Limit on captivity

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."

The bill states that captured wildlife should not be kept in "captivity" for longer than 36 hours. However, wildlife-control operators can keep a captured animal for up to three days if they are trying to locate family members for an "attempted reunion."

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

Before the vote, Cheh told her colleagues that most local animal-control companies support the legislation. But the National Pest Management Association says homeowners' pest-control costs will increase.

Harrington said many raccoons that live on the streets in the District have been captured once in nonlethal traps. He added that a once-trapped raccoon often won't make the same mistake twice. With other types of traps off-limits, Harrington said pest-control specialists often would have to rely on "one-way-door" traps, which can cost several thousand dollars. "You are basically building a door in someone's home where the raccoon might be able to get back out but not back in," Harrington said.

Harrington's association suggested that the legislation could become increasingly threatened by rabid raccoons.

Cheh said the bill includes a provision allowing animal-control officers to use lethal force when a wild animal is a danger to people or pets. "The specter of 'Oh, well, I think now I am just going to let this raccoon bite me' is ridiculous," Cheh said.

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