TOWN CHOOSES LOCAL TRAPPERS over federal program
[Reprinted from original]
PHIPPSBURG — Phippsburg Selectmen decided against partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set wildlife traps, a remediation effort Bath adopted last week, and will instead connect residents interested in trapping wildlife on their property with local fur trappers.
The southern Midcoast area has seen a rash of rabid animal attacks over the past two years, with attacks centered in Bath, which borders Phippsburg.
At least 10 people have been attacked by foxes in Bath the past 13 months, and three fox attacks in West Bath already this year.
Earlier this month, a fox in Phippsburg attacked two people and multiple pets before it was caught and killed.
Scott Lindsay, a regional wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said seasonal, legal fur trappers help stem the spread of rabies by controlling wildlife populations.
According to a statement from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the gray fox population likely spiked in Bath because the city doesn’t allow hunting or trapping, and diseases like rabies can spread rapidly through a high-density animal population.
“Next fall I would strongly encourage anyone and all municipalities to have contact with recreational trappers,” said Lindsay. “(Trapping) is something that should be done consistently, not just in response to concerns about rabies.”
Lindsay also advocated for Animal Damage Control Agents, who are certified by the state to trap outside legal trapping seasons. Residents are able to contract with them if they have a wildlife problem on their property.
Bath city councilors, who voted unanimously to partner with the USDA last week, offered the trapping option to Phippsburg.
The trapping process, which will cost $26,611 from the Bath city council’s contingency fund, will take place over 10 days before the end of March.
The traps will not be lethal or harm the animal, in the event a pet is accidentally caught, but every fox, raccoon and skunk caught will be euthanized, as those are the animals that most commonly spread rabies. This is because it is impossible to confirm whether an animal is infected with rabies while it is alive because brain tissue needs to be tested.
An animal can be rabid without showing symptoms. Once an animal starts displaying symptoms, it will die within 10 days, according to Rachel Keefe, a state epidemiologist.
Oral rabies vaccinations have also been considered but are expensive and wouldn’t be effective in an urban area like Bath, according to Shevenell Webb, a biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The USDA airdrops fishmeal baits carrying raccoon rabies vaccinations in northern Maine to keep rabies from spreading further north. It’s a multi-year, multi-million dollar project that still only results in about one-third of animals in the program area with immunity to rabies.
Lindsay said the vaccination method “sounds like a great idea, but it’s not considered a viable option.”
“If you put (the vaccine baits) inside a town … it’s not considered effective because animals surrounding the area you’re targeting are going to move back in,” Lindsay said.
The push to complete the trapping process before the end of March is connected to the foxes’ breeding season, according to Webb. In about two months, the foxes will have pups that will be dependent on their parents.
Lindsay said targeted trapping efforts similar to what is planned for Bath have been done before to protect endangered species but didn’t know of any trapping in response to a threat to human health and safety such as rabies.
In 2019 Bath received 72 suspicious animal calls, 26 sick animals were dispatched by officers or citizens, and 16 animals tested positive for rabies. Of the 18 fox attacks on people or pets, 11 attacks resulted in a person being bitten or scratched, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Lindsay said while it’s unusual to have this many cases of rabies in a singular year, usually, a spike in rabies cases doesn’t continue for a second year.
Rabies is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal. It infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. Vaccines are 100 percent effective in combating the disease in humans. Rabies is fatal if left untreated.
State wildlife experts have urged people to take measures to protect themselves, such as keeping an eye out for animals acting strangely, carrying a stick or pepper spray, and not leaving out food that could attract the animals.
Bath officials met with USDA officials in a closed-door meeting on Thursday to work out the details of the trapping plan.
Bath will hold a public meeting with USDA officials for residents to ask questions about the trapping process. The date of the meeting has not yet been set.