- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The D.C. Council earlier this month moved closer to granting final passage of the Wildlife Protection Act, an irresistibly titled but unjustifiable measure limiting consumer choice, elevating the rights of nuisance wildlife over those of D.C. residents and creating wildlife population management problems that could endanger public health and safety.

D.C. homeowners, like many other homeowners throughout the country, initially try to manage most pest and nuisance wildlife problems on their own. They typically call a professional pest management company only after their attempts to manage the problem have not been successful. Unfortunately, the Wildlife Protection Act arbitrarily prohibits pest and wildlife management professionals from using long-accepted and widely used wildlife management tools. The loss of these invaluable tools will make the cost of professional wildlife management services less affordable for D.C. residents.

Specifically, the bill bans professionals from using readily available tools such as snap traps and glue boards to control field mice, chipmunks and snakes and mole traps to manage those pests. The bill also precludes professionals from using the most effective tools for managing difficult-to-control raccoons as well as fox, coyote and beaver. The Wildlife Protection Act doesn’t even include exceptions allowing a professional wildlife management company to use valuable wildlife management tools when a resident feels threatened by a rabid or otherwise dangerous animal.

The lost options will force wildlife management professionals to rely more heavily on other methods such as exclusion and building modification. Such work is basically a miniature construction project that takes more time and, in many cases, costs much more. Moreover, such an approach often just pushes the intruding wildlife from one row home to the next and doesn’t solve the pest problem in its entirety but rather makes it someone else’s issue.

The bill also calls for wildlife to be released where it was captured or, with the permission of the property owner, relocated to a safe location where problems are unlikely to occur. Federal law prohibits transporting and relocating wildlife captured in the District to Maryland or Virginia, and federal property such as Rock Creek Park and Fort Dupont Park may not be used as a depository for captured wildlife, either.

It defies logic that a D.C. homeowner or business owner would hire a professional company to manage nuisance wildlife, then agree to permit the offending animal to be released on site where it will almost certainly take up residence again in the home or on the property from where the customer wanted it removed in the first place. Such a scenario sounds like a racket to get repeat business, and it wouldn’t even pass the laugh test if it weren’t about to become part of D.C. code. Furthermore, when it comes to wildlife, many have a “not in my backyard” mentality. While it’s nice to know animals such as a fox, coyote and skunk live in the District, most D.C. residents probably don’t want those animals surveilling their children or pets or smelling up their neighborhood.

Not all provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act are problematic. The industry supports the portions of the bill establishing licensing and minimum competency standards for wildlife management professionals. Many states - including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania - have licensing requirements in place for wildlife management professionals. However, none of those states’ or any other states’ requirements are as restrictive or overreaching as the Wildlife Protection Act.

Despite their rhetoric, even the bill’s supporters can’t show a need for it. According to information from the Washington Humane Society and Washington Animal Rescue League reported in the Washington media, the two groups investigated more than 900 suspected cases of animal mistreatment or abuse from Sept. 30, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2010. Not a single case involved a professional wildlife management company using one of the tools the Wildlife Protection Act seeks to ban. The overwhelming majority of cases involved pet owners’ abuse or other mistreatment of their animals. A representative of the Washington Humane Society has even acknowledged that he has investigated at most four instances of poor treatment of animals by wildlife managers in the past five years.

The lack of data supporting the unprecedented widespread loss of wildlife management tools is all the more troubling because the author of the bill - the Humane Society of the United States - has a financial stake in a for-profit wildlife services company, and the bill essentially would put the company’s business model into D.C. code and legislate competing services out of existence.

In its present form, the bill is unwarranted, self-serving legislation that the D.C. Council should defeat or set aside until a revised version that truly takes into account the interests of D.C. residents can be developed.

Gene Harrington is director of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association.

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