Bold raccoons becoming a nuisance in Birch Bay

Published on Thu, Oct 4, 2012 by Brandy Kiger

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Residents of the Cottonwood neighborhood in Birch Bay have seen a spike in raccoon activity, much of which has not been pleasant. From eating out of bird feeders to boldly snarling at screen doors, the small mammals are becoming a nuisance and people are starting to take notice.

“From the stories we’re hearing from people, it seems that the [raccoon] population is significant,” said Ingrid Enschede, program specialist for Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management District (BBWARM), though she did add that the group does not have specific data on the number of raccoons in the area.

Enschede notes that the animals pose a problem for the community, in more ways than one. “Many of us grew up with Ranger Rick and thinking that these animals are cute and cuddly, so it’s a paradigm shift to think that they could be dangerous,” she said. “It’s important to get the word out to the community to do what they can to make the area not welcoming to raccoons.”

Adult raccoons measure around 3 feet long and can weigh anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds, depending on their diet, age and habitat location. While they may appear cute and cuddly, they often carry serious diseases that can spread to pets or people such as rabies, roundworms, leptospirosis and canine distemper.

And, when they congregate, they form communal latrines, which is bad news for water quality as well. Bacteria and disease is transmitted through their feces, and when the animals create and use latrines in low-lying, wet areas, that bacteria gets washed into the watershed.

Of the 15 coastal drainages that BBWARM monitors, only two meet water quality standards. While BBWARM can’t decisively point to what level of contribution raccoons make to the contamination present in the Birch Bay coastal drainages, it’s a good bet that they play a significant role. “It’s the [wildlife] we see the most numbers of that are most likely to be contributors,” Enschede said, noting that waterfowl and domestic pets are a potential source of contaminants as well.

She also recommends that if you come across a latrine on your property that you leave it alone, as coming into contact with it can expose you to serious health risks.

Kathy Berg of Birch Bay first noticed the raccoon problem in her own backyard a few years ago. The raccoons would climb up her back porch to reach the bird feeders hanging from the rafters, and were a little too close for comfort. “We quit feeding the birds because we didn’t want [the raccoons] near our little dogs,” Berg said. Since she stopped stocking the bird
feeders the raccoon problem has gone away. “There was nothing there for them anymore,” she said.

Last week, Marvin Streubel of USDA Wildlife Services was called to Cottonwood to assess a situation where a mother raccoon and her two babies were harassing a family in their home. Doralee Booth, a neighbor, witnessed the continued racoon activity, noting that the raccoons would constantly gather on the front porch of the home and were becoming increasingly aggressive.

“They’re a nuisance,” she said.

Streubel offered an explanation for the aggressiveness. “This time of year they are aggressive because their babies are still very young,” Streubel said. “We deal with a lot of female raccoons this time of year.”

Streubel later trapped and euthanized the raccoons, which is required by state law. “Even if I could take them and let them loose they are accustomed to eating domestic food, so it would just be relocating the problem,” he said.

If you’re concerned about aggressive raccoons in your neighborhood, contact Fish and Wildlife at 425/775-1311. They can advise you on the steps to take to handle the situation, and can put you in touch with resources to evaluate and deal with the problem. For more information, visit wdfw.wa.gov/living/raccoons.html.