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HUNTSVILLE, Ala.  (WHNT) – Local wildlife rehabilitaters and animal advocates are furious over new guidelines handed down by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  They forbid anyone from saving or rehabilitating seven species of animals in Alabama.

Wildlife rehabbers have been expecting conservation officials to release a new set of guidelines consistent across the entire state, but these changes are not what they had in mind.  (Click HERE for background information from “Survival of the Fittest”, a story done by WHNT NEWS 19 in May, 2013.)

In short, conservation officials are forbidding the rescue and rehabilitation of fur-bearing animals, including raccoons, foxes, skunks, opossums, coyotes, bats, and feral pigs.

Jud Easterwood, a wildlife supervisor based in Tanner, said his phone has been ringing constantly from people all across the country who are upset about the new orders.  Click HERE to see the letter from conservation officials.

As of September 1, 2013, dozens of wildlife rehabbers in Alabama must obtain new permits to comply with the new regulations.

They must now tell anyone who calls them for help with a raccoon, fox, skunk, opossum, coyote, bat or feral pig, that they can no longer accept them.

Furthermore, rehabbers must euthanize such animals brought to them.

Easterwood admits there is no overpopulation of these animals, but officials are concerned about the spread of disease.  They also believe rescuing even an injured or orphaned baby of these species will interrupt the natural cycle of life and death.

Rehabbers insist there is no problem with diseased animals in Alabama and euthanizing them goes against the very reasons they got into rehab work to begin with.

Janet Stratman, a rehabber with North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators, said “I’m not a euthanizer.  I’m a rehabber.  I didn’t get into this work to kill animals.  I got into it to save animals.”

Conservation officials sent out letters to Stratman and all rehabbers across Alabama this week to inform them of the changes.  Officials said if a rehabber has such an animal in their care, they can continue to treat them and release them into the wild.  However, the rehabbers are not allowed to take on and save any more.

As of Thursday morning, an online petition started Wednesday to protest the action had more than 550 signatures on it, including those from people in France.

Easterwood sent the following statement to WHNT NEWS 19 to explain how and why the changes were made:

Several comments have been received regarding the new wildlife rehabilitation permitting process recently implemented by the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF).  This response provides some insight into Alabama’s wildlife resources and our view of the role of wildlife rehabilitation. The WFF began a review of the wildlife rehabilitation permitting process and policies during the fall of 2012.  The goal was to standardize the policies and procedures across the State. The review process involved input the United States Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service permitting office in Atlanta, the National Rabies Management Program Coordinator for the USDA in New Hampshire, and an individual permitted as a wildlife rehabilitator in Alabama.  Ultimately, Alabama’s wildlife rehabilitation permitting process is a state program and the final decisions were made by Department of Conservation and Natural Resources personnel.    As part of the process, the WFF mission statement (“manage, protect, conserve, and enhance the wildlife resources of Alabama for the sustainable benefit of the people of Alabama”) was used to determine an appropriate course of action regarding wildlife rehabilitation.  WFF firmly believes that rehabilitation of most wildlife species in Alabama is not warranted unless it is threatened, endangered or is a species of special concern.  Statewide populations of most animals are at levels that do not justify rehabilitation of individual animals.  Injured and/or orphaned animals are more susceptible to predators.  These injured/orphaned animals are an integral part of the natural food chain.  Disrupting the food chain may have unintended consequences such as causing additional mortality of healthy animals in the system. Although the rehabilitation of most wildlife species is not necessary, we approved a permitting process that would allow for the rehabilitation of animals except raccoons, foxes, skunks, opossums, coyotes, bats, or feral pigs. These species are either exotic invasive or pose significant human health risk through diseases such as rabies. The new permitting process requires permitted rehabilitators to meet guidelines established by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.  The recent letter to permitted rehabilitators was not as clear as it could have been on how to handle raccoons, foxes, skunks, opossums, coyotes, or bats that were being held by rehabilitators prior to September 1.  The intent is for permitted rehabilitators to continue to rehabilitate these animals and release them upon their recovery.  After September 1, 2013, permitted rehabilitators should 1) tell members of the public that they can no longer accept individual animals of these seven species, or 2) euthanize animals brought to them by unknowing citizens.  It is our goal to hopefully educate the general public regarding the role of wildlife rehabilitation and the need to allow nature to act upon biological systems in an unbiased manner.  For example, it is more appropriate for a hawk to remove an injured/orphaned squirrel as opposed to preying on a healthy squirrel.    A few comments have been made about Acts 9-11-247 through 9-11-249 of the Code of Alabama.  These acts have no impact on wildlife rehabilitators but to clarify these are the facts.  These acts, passed in 1951 by members of the state legislature and signed by the Governor, allow sportsman associations incorporated as non-profit associations in Alabama which have a paid membership of 25 members or more to host “coon on the log” contests.  These events also require a permit issued by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  Since 1998, only three permits for these events have been issued.  These types of events may have been popular in 1951 but in today’s society are much less common.  We don’t encourage this type of activity but must issue a permit if the conditions set forth in the law are met by the permit applicants.   We value the services that permitted wildlife rehabilitators provide and want Alabama’s wildlife rehabilitation program to be standardized across the state.