Life or Death: Alabama’s New Wildlife Rehab Laws Ban Seven Species

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) - As wildlife rehabilitators across Alabama gear up for a legal fight against the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources over new permit guidelines, WHNT NEWS 19 took action to get some answers that rehabbers said they couldn't get from the people who ordered the changes.

It's a story WHNT NEWS 19 has been tracking since May, when there were no uniform guidelines regulating rehabbers.  Some rehabbers in North Alabama were abiding by different regulations than rehabbers in different parts of the state.

In September, DCNR officials sent out letters to rehabbers that applied to all and outraged animals lovers and wildlife rehabilitators in Alabama.

WHNT NEWS 19 reported then the new guidelines forbid rehabbers from rescuing seven species of wild animals, no matter if they're injured or orphaned.  Furthermore, the changes order rehabbers to euthanize any such animals that are brought to them by a concerned citizen.

Rehabbers told WHNT NEWS 19 felt blind-sided by the change, were not consulted, and say they got nowhere when asking for an explanation from conservation officials.

Several rehabbers in North Alabama contacted WHNT NEWS 19 to take action and get the answers they couldn't from the officials.  So WHNT NEWS 19 travelled to the state capital to do just that.

Here's what we found:

Raccoons are the main target of the new sweeping changes over which animals licensed wildlife rehabbers in Alabama can help send back into the wild.

"Raccoons are the face of this," said Chuck Sykes, the Director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.  "They're real cute when they're little, so they're the poster child."

Sykes is a degreed biologist.  He ordered the changes, forbidding rehabbers from rescuing raccoon, skunk, opossum, coyote, fox, bats, and feral pigs.  furthermore, rehabbers are now required to euthanize such animals brought to them.

Sykes' reasoning?  Disease control.

"After meeting with the USDA, upon their recommendation, no rabies-carrying vector should be rehabbed," Sykes told WHNT NEWS 19 in Montgomery.

On October 7th, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources held a public forum in Montgomery on an unrelated issue.  Rehabbers from around the state showed up to challenge the new orders.

"We're going to continue to fight this,"  said Janet Stratman, a member of the North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators.  "The public is outraged over this.  They just can't believe it."

Stratman is a rehabber from Madison County and contacted WHNT NEWS 19 to find out the reasoning for the move, since she said her phonecalls and emails to conservation officials went unanswered.

She pointed to the State Health Department's records dating back to 1950 indicating a huge reduction in rabies cases in all animals throughout the state.  They document the highest number of cases at 732 confirmed cases for the year in 1953, as compared to 55 confirmed cases in 2012.

But Sykes said he based his decision to ban the seven species on research done by the United States Department of Agriculture in Alabama.

"They're the ones that's fighting the rabies spread throughout the state," said Sykes.  "They trapped 300 raccoons in Shelby County.  Twenty of them had rabies.  Of that 20, about 15 of them showed no outward signs of having the disease.  So, any animal that has a possibility of harboring rabies should not be rehabilitated.  And, biologically speaking, I understand that."

"When he uses the term 'biologically', what's his reference point?" Stratman insisted.  "I mean that can be used a lot of different ways."

Stratman and others worry the changes will lead to compassionate people trying to save wild animals by themselves instead of turning them over to trained rehabbers ordered to euthanize the animals.

"If we don't rehab them, the public is going to rehab them," said Stratman.  "We, as rehabbers, see the signs of illnesses and disease.  The public may not.  The public brings us an animal that they think they are saving and then we have to tell them we're supposed to euthanize it?  That's not what we do."

John Morse, a rehabber with Big Bend Wildlife Sanctuary in Enterprise, also attended the public forum.  He posed a question to conservation officials:  "What's wrong with the intervention of humans taking care of wildlife?  Species genocide is something that nobody should practice."

Sykes responded to the complaints and criticism saying, "I understand their point, but again, I'm looking at large scale, not just one animal at a time."

Sykes said the move is to prevent the spread of several diseases to humans as well as other wildlife.

But Mindy Gilbert, the Alabama Director for the Humane Society of the United States, doesn't buy it.

She too attended the public forum and said, "It's counterproductive to protecting the public safety."

She said other states that have implemented species bans eventually reversed the move due to the adverse affects.    "Of the 20 states in the Eastern Time Zone, only one state has a blanket ban on the possession or rehabilitation of animals and that's North Carolina.  All of the other states support trained rabies vector species rehabilitation."

Sykes said, "I understand this is an emotionally charged issue.  I'm an animal lover just like they are.  I just look at it from a different perspective."

He added he and his department are open to other ideas and studies showing a different approach to battling the spread of diseases.

As for the USDA, WHNT NEWS 19 contacted the Alabama representative, Dana Johnson, but he told us he couldn't discuss the matter due to the government shutdown preventing him from conducting any business related to the USDA.

27 comments

  • Janet Stratman

    Actually they are Michael. Dana Johnson’s comments still did not give studies and numbers to back up the decision. Michael, since you know so much regarding rehabbing and wildlife, explain why opossums are on the list.

    • Chrus Fowler

      Janet, maybe Michael and others like him would understand if they saw the ACTUAL numbers. These numbers are from the Alabama Department of Health from 2002 – 2012 (TEN years) FOR THE WHOLE STATE.

      skunk – 3
      opossum – 3
      pig – 0
      fox – 90
      coyote – 7
      bat – 222
      raccoon – 669

      I hope this puts some clarity on this whole issue.

    • Charon

      And who pray tell would pay for that? I for one along with many others are not willing to. Do you even comprehend how enormous a task that would be?

      • denise hays

        like everything else in wildlife rehabilitation, Charon, the REHABILITATORS PAY FOR IT!!!! They shoulder all of the cost!

  • John Martin

    It would be in the best interest for the public and for the animals to give these animals a Rabies shot before these wild animals are released back into the wild. At the same time the wild animal would be tagged in some way so that the public would know that this animal has had it’s shot. Also it would be necessary for the tag be a color that tells animal control what year the animal had the Rabies shot. I do think the best way to pay for that shot the responsibility of the licensed keeper of that wild animal.

  • CHERYL FOTIA,B.S.W..

    “THIS EXTERMINATION OF SPECIES” > IS GOING “GLOBAL! & WHY REMAINS THE QUESTION? I CAN’T HELP BUT SURRENDER TO THE IDEA ; IN> “THE END OF TIMES” > “THE INNOCENCE WERE TO BE SACRIFICED FIRST! / EASY PREY!!!! OR ARE THEY UP TO CONTRAPLATING> A MADDNESS SUCH AS WW#3 ?…………………

  • Michael Kewl

    “Now, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has ordered rehabbers to cease helping seven species of animals and, instead, euthanize them.”

    AGAIN…Correct decision…and thanks from all of us who are outdoors people who love our wildlfie and understand their lifecycles without human intervention is required…so don’t make the mistake of trying to make pets of these animals nor intervene to save them…

    • ed l

      No one is making pets out of rehabilitated wildlife. They can be nurtured back to health and sent back into their habitats. And, yes, they can have rabies shots as well to end this controversy. The “professionals” in Alabama really screwed up on this one and I hope they reverse course

    • Truefreedom

      I would feel as you do if we TRULY did not intervene with wildlife . But our society has roads and buildings that were never intended in nature’s plan. We intervene with wildlife everyday, and at a much higher rate than rehabilitaters do.

    • Chris Fowler

      Michael, how’d they fit all that stupid into one head? You really don’t have a clue to what all is involved here. You claim that we should all take a “let nature take its course” policy. But it is NOT nature that creates orphaned and injured wildlife. It is MAN via hit by cars, shot with BB or pellet guns, dog attacks, poisoning and trapping nursing mothers leaving the babies behind to die a very slow and painful death by starvation and dehydration if not transferred to a wildlife rehabber to UNDO this damage by man.

  • Gean

    WHNT Viewers please take the time to Google The Management Advantage Consulting website and see what Chuck Sykes is really about. He considers opossums, raccoon’s, and and other fur bearing animals that he and his company kills as “Predator Management”. The decision that Sykes made is solely self serving based on his eagerness to trap and kill fur bearing animals for the purpose of making some of the fur bearing animals in Alabama extinct. I am sending this website directly to the Governors office for review. Is Chuck Sykes the type person who should be responsible for the conservation of wildlife in the State of Alabama? You decide. I worked as a consultant spending a lot of time in State offices in Montgomery. I am ashamed of what our State offices seem to find acceptable. Please contact the Governor and express your opinion on this subject.

    The below comments are from Chuck Sykes business website.

    The Trapping Message
    Chuck Sykes – The Management Advantage Consulting
    I wanted to keep you informed of the progress the FTA and The Management Advantage are having on promoting the trapping message. It was a huge step for the FTA to agree to the sponsorship of The Management Advantage this season and I needed to let the FTA members know how much their decision has impacted our viewers.
    Each week we receive some form of validation that we are both doing a great service to the public. Our two organizations have never been the kind to take the road of political correctness or fall victim to knee-jerk emotional propaganda. We follow fact based information based on scientific data. However, with a subject as emotionally charged as trapping, we are sure to ruffle a few feathers along the way and we have had several viewers that were not too thrilled with us promoting trapping. But, the overall response to the FTA Trapping Chronicles has been extremely positive.
    Some weeks the positive comments come in the form of email. Here are just a few of them:

    • Janet Stratman

      Gean, Chuck seems to use the phrase “emotionally charged issue” frequently. I was surprised to hear him say in the Gary West post that he has a “Nuisance Control” business. Wonder if the state contracts with them.

  • Deborah Marie Childers

    If the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is so concerned and willing to accept the USDA assertion that most of the animals are not showing signs of rabies should they also not be advocating no hunting of these species as a hunter would be unaware of the infection and could be moving these animals bodies and infecting others and spreading disease? Hunters come from all over and do not stay in their home area to hunt. I know rehabbers use infection and isolation protocols do your hunters?

  • Tammy Hand

    I am a rehabber and the new law has had the reverse effect. Instead of protecting the public now the public have become rehabbers with because they will not put down or refuse to help a orphaned or hurt animal. I have had several calls and the end result is someone from the general public with no training no vet support system trying to rehab the animal on their own. Now all the family , pets, and friends of this family are at risk . I do give my animals shots before release , it does come out of my pocket and no tax payer funding of any kind. and they are not pets they still are wild animals , but the ones taken in by the public will be pets and come up to the first person they see for food and if infected guess what , they will be killed or again put the public at risk . And you say we don’t see the big picture . Take off your rose glasses and see what is really happening and who is really at risk .

  • David

    It seems obvious that this will lead to greater dangers to the public. People who find an injured animal will now be tempted to hide the animal and care for it furtively. The animals will not be vaccinated or given proper handling. Anyone breaking the law will be afraid to admit to contact with a suspected rabid animal, for fear of arrest, and some will cross their fingers and hope the animal had some other disease. What an idiotic law!

  • David

    One other thing, how long is it before we have armed SWAT-type idiots from the USDA swarming into homes to kill these animals, in the manner a fawn was killed in Wisconsin? This is coming down from the feds, undoubtedly. It is a PETA-like mentality that is being shoved down the throats of Americans. I for one, do NOT feel safer with this type of action being threatened.

  • Chris Fowler

    Maybe Michael and other misinformed people would understand if they saw the numbers for themselves.These numbers are from the Alabama Department of Health from 2002 – 2012 (TEN years) FOR THE WHOLE STATE.

    skunk – 3
    opossum – 3
    pig – 0
    fox – 90
    coyote – 7
    bat – 222
    raccoon – 669

    I hope this puts some clarity on this whole issue.

  • Nanette

    I want to thank Beth Jett for doing such a great job with this story. If I hadn’t seen the promos for it I never would have know to watch it. I have since signed the petition to stop it. Thanks again Beth for a job well done.

Comments are closed.