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Avella bill would compel city to address raccoon population

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State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is calling on the city Department of Health to take responsibility for nuisance raccoons he says are plaguing residents in northeast Queens, but the department has responded that it is the senator’s proposed legislation that is the real pest.

Avella stood alongside state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and residents last week in front of an overgrown, abandoned lot in Flushing to announce a bill that would require DOH to capture and release non-rabid raccoons.

“As we see less and less wild areas in the city, these animals have been forced to encroach on our residential neighborho­ods,” Avella said. “Currently, the city is reluctant to address the ever increasing population of raccoons in our neighborhoods and it is simply not acceptable anymore.”

A representative for the DOH responded, calling the proposed legislation an “unfunded mandate that would require expenditure of significant resources,” including hiring licensed trappers and purchasing equipment.

The department would also have to train staff and purchase euthanizing drugs in order to dispose of raccoons because the state Department of Environmental Conservation does not allow the city to release the animals, according to the representative.

“Of course, this is an unfunded mandate, until we provide funding,” Avella said later in the week. “I’d certainly work to get funding on the city or state level.”

The DOH added that the removal of raccoons is ineffective unless homeowners repair their buildings and manage their garbage, and suggested a law modeled on the department’s rat control program, which issues violations to property owners who do not respond to warnings based on inspections, would be more effective.

Avella said that decades of inaction by the city and state, along with loss of the animals’ natural habitat, have resulted in an out-of-control population.

“This is a serious quality-of-life issue. It’s also about safety. These raccoons are not afraid of human contact and they can be very aggressive,” he said.

The legislator said his office has received complaints about the animals tearing through plastic garbage cans and clawing their way through the roofs of buildings.

“This is when it becomes municipal government’s responsibility. It’s due to years of inaction that the raccoon population has gotten out of hand,” he said.

The DOH contracts with Animal Care & Control to capture any raccoon that is sick, injured or that has bitten or scratched a person or a pet so rabies testing can be conducted. Property owners with nuisance raccoons may hire a licensed trapper to remove the animals.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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