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Lethal business?

The skunk that strolled out beneath an Ashland man's house thought it was heading for dinner at a front yard bird feeder, but instead its last steps landed it in a live trap that critter catcher Don Meyer had placed there the night before.

This is skunk No. 4 that, along with three brethren and a raccoon, have been squatting in the house's crawl space. All took turns entering Meyer's trap, then finding a one-way trip in the back of Meyer's truck to their ultimate demise.

"I normally do away with them," Meyer says.

What is currently the norm could become the law for Meyer and other critter catchers working the backyards and crawl spaces of Oregon to rid them of wildlife considered nuisances by landowners who want them gone.

State wildlife managers are in the midst of expanding and updating how critter catchers — officially called wildlife control operators — are licensed and monitored in Oregon, including a proposed rule that all captured animals be euthanized, with no releases without a state biologist's pre-trapping approval.

The issue was scheduled for discussion and public comment April 24 before the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in Bend. The commission is set to vote on whether to enact the changes that day as well.

Oregon's wildlife control operators program has not seen an overhaul since the first rules were put into place by the commission a decade ago.

Currently, only the 90 trapping company owners must pass a one-time test on tricks of the trade, such as the types of traps available, how to set them and euthanizing practices. Their employees currently are not required to be licensed.

The new proposal calls for anyone operating traps to be licensed, sets permit fees for company owners and employees and would require 12 hours of continuous education between renewals of the two-year license.

"We're looking to make the industry more professional," says Rick Boatner, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who oversees the program. "Any time you can make your business more professional, that's a good thing."

But the biggest change would be the no-release rules, which are designed to reduce problems for humans as well as the trapped animals, Boatner says.

A no-release policy is believed to help curb the spread of diseases such as roundworm and canine distemper, a disease so prevalent in raccoons that the ODFW already has a no-release rule on them, Boatner says.

Distemper can be spread to pets and roundworm can be spread to pets and people, he says.

Also, released animals already have habituated themselves to people and are thus more likely to cause the same problems that got them trapped in the first place or even return to where they were trapped, Boatner says.

Released animals can end up in territorial clashes with resident animals and struggle to find food and water sources, Boatner says.

"Release is not a good option," Boatner says. "Some (people) understand it when you explain it to them. Others can't grasp it."

Scott Beckstead, Oregon director for the Humane Society of the United States, believes killing nuisance animals should be a last resort, not a first and only one.

"Most Oregonians believe animals should not be killed as a matter of reflex," Beckstead says. "When it comes to dealing with wildlife conflicts, every effort should be to use nonlethal means."

Beckstead says he believes no new policy on regulating wildlife control operators' killing policies should be done without input from more than the ODFW biologists and trappers who made up an advisory committee that led to the new draft rules.

"It merits a conversation, including everyone who has an interest in the subject," Beckstead says.

The task force that helped craft the new draft included three current trappers, ODFW state veterinarian Colin Gillin and five ODFW staff, Boatner says. The Portland Audubon Association, which had a member on the original task force that drafted the current rules, was offered a seat this time around but declined, Boatner says.

Boatner says his agency does not have a grasp on how many trapped raccoons, skunks, squirrels and other critter-catcher targets are caught, released or killed annually because current rules require the reporting only of trapped furbearers such as beavers and bobcats.

The current draft proposal calls for reporting of everything captured by licensed trappers, who locally trap mostly raccoons, skunks and opossums for landowners.

Wildlife control operators already have protocols for handling animals and use the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2013 guidelines for euthanizing animals, which include a .22-caliber shot to the head.

That's Meyer's preferred method, with the animals mostly buried on public lands. He takes no pleasure in it.

"I have no urge to kill anything for sport or food," he says.

Meyer believes his killing of nuisance animals balances out those homeowners who capture and release wildlife that invariably raid someone else's house, bird feeder and crawl space.

"Every year I keep running into more and more of them that have been released," Meyer says. "Now, you'll never catch them 'cuz they're trap-shy."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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A skunk hunkers down after being trapped outside a home in Ashland. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Meyer believes his killing of nuisance animals balances out those homeowners who capture and release wildlife that invariably raid someone else's house, bird feeder and crawl space. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch