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Rule would force killing of animals

Animal activists are blasting a state proposal that would require skunks, raccoons and other nuisance animals captured by licensed "critter catchers" to be killed and not relocated, saying the approach is "out of step" with Oregonians' animal-welfare values.

Scott Beckstead, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, opposes portions of Oregon's proposed new rules for wildlife control operators that include requirements that animals trapped under houses and in crawl spaces no longer be relocated to the wild.

An advisory group that put together the proposal for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife believes that relocation is "not a viable option" because of the high risk of disease transmission to otherwise healthy animal populations and the likelihood that releasing nuisance animals simply transfers the problem without solving it, according to a draft of the proposed rules. 

The rule change, which allows for case-by-case exceptions under approval of a local ODFW biologist, is part of a suite of proposed changes to wildlife control operator rules the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider when it meets Friday in Portland. 

"It shouldn't be a shoot-first approach," Beckstead said. "Killing animals absolutely should be the last resort and not the first resort.

"It's a further reflection that this commission is out of step with the humane values of Oregonians," Beckstead said.

Rick Boatner, who oversees the program for the ODFW, said the new rules target mainly raccoons and skunks while allowing the release of animals such as western gray squirrels, fishers, martins, snakes and others.

"It's mainly a disease issue," Boatner said.

Canine distemper is so prevalent among raccoons that the ODFW already has a no-release policy on them. Skunks can carry roundworm that can spread to pets and people, Boatner said.

Roughly 90 people are licensed statewide by the ODFW and hired by members of the public to trap and transport animals, largely in urban areas, that cause a nuisance, damage property or pose a public-health risk. The wildlife control operators are licensed under a 2003 law that hasn't been revised since then.

The new proposal calls for requiring that all those who handle nuisance animals to pass a test and be licensed instead of the current rules that require only the business owner to get a one-time license. Also new is a proposed requirement that operators pay for licenses that must be renewed every two years either by repassing the test or conducting 12 hours of continuing education.

The tests cover tricks of the trade, such as the types of traps available, how to set them and euthanizing practices. The operators' employees currently are not required to be licensed.

Operators would be required to pay $25 each time they take a test and the two-year permits would cost $60 under the proposal.

The owners of two smaller wildlife control operations have balked at the $60 fee, saying they do so little work that the cost would be prohibitive, Boatner said.

The proposal also calls for lowering the maximum time between checks of traps from 72 hours to 48 hours to ensure trapped animals are treated humanely, and traps can be checked by the landowners, according to the draft.

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