Raccoons could join the list of some of Oregon's top wildlife predators deemed illegal for people to feed under a bill winding its way through the Oregon Legislature.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing Monday on Senate Bill 474, which would add raccoons to the public feeding ban enacted in 2011 for bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves.
These animals are designated as "potentially habituated wildlife" that are more likely to associate humans with food and possibly cause public-safety and other conflicts with Oregonians, backers say.
Like other animals on the list, raccoons have been known to lose their fear of humans and try to bite the hand that feeds them — or at least scare the heck out of the neighbors.
"I don't know about people in Medford, but I've had a cat ripped to shreds by one," said state Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, who is co-chairman of the House committee that held Monday's hearing. "It's amazing how aggressive they are. They've chased my wife and trapped me on my porch."
Esquivel said he supports adding raccoons to the list and has heard of no push-back from raccoon-lovers on the proposed ban.
"We shouldn't be feeding mammals, anyway," he said. "Just birds."
If the bill passes, those who put out food or garbage to feed raccoons will receive a written notification telling them to remove the food or garbage within two days.
The bill does not list a penalty for failing to comply.
"Like a lot of things, we prohibit it but we don't come down on you if you break the law," Esquivel said.
Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District wildlife biologist, said putting out food is known to trigger higher concentrations of normally wild animals, and that can help spread diseases such as canine distemper that is now entrenched in the southern Rogue Valley's raccoon and fox population.
Distemper is a highly contagious and generally fatal virus that regularly spikes in urban areas of the Pacific Northwest when local populations of raccoons, skunks and other animals surge.
It does not affect people, but pets are susceptible, particularly if pet owners haven't kept up with distemper vaccinations, Vargas said.
Infected animals often have runny noses and eyes, are listless in daylight, and often appear disoriented and uninterested in food or water.
"It's a natural disease and it's booming now," Vargas said. "There are so many calls we don't even go out on them anymore."
If a raccoon with apparent distemper is causing a human-safety problem, Vargas recommends notifying the local police department. If there is concern that the infected raccoon had contact with people or pets, notify the county health department or your veterinarian, Vargas said.
Just as it can with feeding wild turkeys, feeding raccoons can become a source of neighborhood conflict because some don't want the extra animals around.
"For every person who feeds a raccoon, there is one who hates them," Vargas said.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.