Call In Ranger Rick!
Carmel takes the helm in the Peninsula's ongoing struggle with the masked bandits.
Thursday, August 3, 2000
Ah yes, raccoons. What to do with the flat-footed masked beasts, the sly tricksters that make latrines of our wood piles, bunk in our attics, craft log cabins out of our sheds? How to outsmart one of nature''s most inquisitive and adaptable creatures, a forest dweller that seems happy to live just about anywhere?
Since the tragic roundworm infection that paralyzed Pacific Grove''s young Casey Reed in the summer of 1998, Monterey Peninsula has been grappling with the raccoon problem. The parasite that afflicted Reed was largely believed to be Baylisascaris, which comes from the ingestion of roundworm eggs found in raccoon feces. The incident gave rise to a predictable public outcry, and within a few months Pacific Grove''s animal control unit had euthanized 200 or so raccoons.
And now, just as things are finally quieting down in old Pacific Grove, thanks to months of educational meetings and fliers, it seems Carmel is on the warpath. Felled pets and property damage--including a barrel of raccoons trapped in an attic that burrowed through a ceiling and landed slap into a plush Carmel bedroom--have prompted the City Council to address the matter.
Carmel hasn''t had enough animal problems to warrant an animal control officer since the early ''90s, and Police Chief Donald Fuselier reports receiving only three raccoon calls over the past several months. Nevertheless, on July 11, Mayor Sue McCloud called a council meeting to hear findings from a raccoon latrine study conducted by William Murray, associate professor of microbiology at San Jose State University.
The Carmel meeting ended in a flurry of contention, not so much over what Murray reported--that the presence of roundworm in Carmel''s raccoon latrines was basically on par with national levels and that the disease remained incredibly rare--but on how the meeting was conducted. McCloud allowed for questions but no public comment, and declined activists'' pleas to extend an invitation to ecologist Gordon Hensley to "balance" the discussion. Several pro-raccooners who tried to speak, including former P.G. Councilmember Terrence Zito, were hushed by the mayor and booed by the crowd.
Councilmember Dick Ely chalks up the unpleasantness to the public''s confusion over when to speak and ask questions. "The presentation by Murray was scheduled to be just that," he explains, "and we did not want not open it up for a broad general discussion on the topic."
Local activist and veterinarian Laura Pasten says all the anti-raccoon hype has been one big set-up. "It was inappropriate for Murray to give a presentation to the council," she says. "It gives weight to something that doesn''t deserve it. The poop of raccoons is no worse than any other animal''s poop." Pasten, whose group Citizens Against Raccoon Extermination lost a 1998 lawsuit against P.G., its City Council and Police Chief Scott Miller for violation of Fish and Game code, heralds raccoons as a crucial part of nature''s ecological balance.
In Pacific Grove, public education about problems associated with feeding wildlife and constructive tools for protecting properties have been key. To make things a bit easier, PG voted earlier this year to allow low-current electric fences in the city.
And in the wake of education has come relative calm, says Pacific Grove''s animal control officer Elizabeth Yeo. Yeo''s office still takes three calls a day for raccoon worries, but they''ve only trapped a handful of raccoons this year, focusing instead on helping people exclude the bear-like creatures from their properties. "People would always like someone else to do the work," explains Yeo, "but they have to be a part of the solution, to step up to the plate."
But it seems Carmel is bent on learning that lesson for itself. While Carmel has mirrored P.G.''s educational efforts and spent $8,000 on new lids for city trash cans, it is unclear what comes next. Ely, for one, says it''s time to take action. "I do not believe we can live in harmony with raccoons in Carmel," he declares. "There are too many collisions."
In his 18 years as a health officer with the Monterey County Health Department, Robert Melton has seen outcries over rabies, the plague and even pond scum. Although he encourages long-term interest in living safely with wild animals, he discourages responding only to dramatic incidents. "People should not overreact to one case, one case does not make an epidemic," he explains. "This is an overall lesson of how humans and wildlife can live in harmony. It''s a lesson in ecology."