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City to review trapping law for raccoons, other pests

One resident’s recent encounter with some bold raccoons and his struggle to obtain permission from the city to capture them has got the City Council considering a change to the trapping and hunting ordinance.

According to deputy city manager Londi Lindell, the city attorney staff is evaluating the current ordinance enacted in 1991, which bans the use of animal traps, to determine if it conflicts with state trapping regulations. When completed, city staff plans to offer some changes to the ordinance to the Council.

According to Sean Carrell, the statewide problem wildlife coordinator of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the city has the right to restrict trapping.

“The state may have a law that says it’s hunting season but a city might have a law that prohibits the discharge of a firearm within its city limits,” Carrell said. “The state law can’t supersede city and county regulations.”

The Mercer Island ban on animal traps currently leaves property owners with few options to get raccoons and other animals if they’re causing property damage.

Trapping on Mercer Island requires a letter of authorization from the city attorney and a police report to document the property damage. The letter is usually issued only if there is a threat to domestic pets or children, making it nearly impossible to obtain. The only legally, easily maintainable option residents have are deterrent methods, such as putting cayenne pepper on the ground or purchasing wildlife nuisance removal products from a store.

Island resident, Denny Morrison shared his recent “12 days of raccoon hell” with the City Council last Monday. Morrison said he noticed extensive yard damage when he came home from a vacation on April 5 and it continued to get worse.

By Monday, his lawn was ripped up as if it had hosted a youth soccer tournament over the weekend. After calling animal control, he was referred to some local trapping companies that told him they couldn’t trap on Mercer Island without a letter from the city attorney.

As Morrison found out, wildlife nuisance control companies usually bring bad news to Island property owners who have experienced damage from raccoons or beavers. Even though state law permits companies licensed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to trap nuisance wildlife, the city’s ban takes it a step further and the companies don’t trap here often.

“It’s the only [city] with a special permit process,” said Karen Awrylo, an employee with Critter Control, a wildlife nuisance company based in Bellevue. “It’s a lot harder to trap and it is not as timely. A lot of damage can occur when the property owner waits for the permit and they might not even get it unless their persistent.”

According to Awrylo, the Island’s law is the only local ordinance the completely prohibits trapping of nuisance animals. Critter Control finally came out to help Morrison a week after the initial damage because he received the letter of authorization to capture the raccoons. Several days later, they had caught three raccoons. Another trapper, John Consolini said he has had a business license to trap animals on Mercer Island since 1981 and seen the damage done firsthand.

“In 20 to 30 years I’ve been working on Mercer Island, I’ve seen about $6 to 7 million worth of property damage.”

Carrell also said that the state requires certain species be euthanized after capture because they are potential disease carriers. Raccoons are one of those species because several diseases they are known to carry, such as rabies and ring worm, can affect other raccoons and sometimes humans.

Many bird species that may carry Avian Influenza or the West Nile Virus are also put down after capture because relocating them would facilitate the spread of the disease.

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