Initially, the council had agreed to hire licensed trappers and pay them for each raccoon caught. But some council members received complaints from constituents who did not want to see raccoons destroyed. The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the council, which is to take up the matter at its May 18 meeting.
Officials of the Briar Bush Nature Center in Abington Township say that
raccoons should be caught and released in forested areas outside the township - only if they represent a threat to residents' safety.
If residents are bothered by raccoons going through their trash at night, they can remedy the situation by putting their trash out in the morning, said center representative Wendy Twining Clymer.
The center rents traps to its members but is prepared to rent to nonmembers who have problems with raccoons in their chimneys and attics, Clymer said. But she said the center would like to see the animals released elsewhere.
However, Ted Godshall of the state Game Commission contends that releasing the raccoons is not the answer.
"When you release them in rural areas, you're passing the problem on to someone else," he said.
In addition, the relocated raccoons may not live because they have not learned how to survive in rural areas, he said.
"Currently, we have a severe overpopulation in Pennsylvania. We have far, far more raccoons than we should have," he said.
Godshall said he favored killing the raccoons humanely.
"That's why we have removed protection from these areas," he said.
In 1984, the state Game Commission took raccoons, skunks, squirrels and foxes off a protected species list in 15 counties in south/central Pennsylvania because of a rabies epidemic in that area, he said.
As of July 1, those animals will be removed from the protected species list statewide, and landowners will be permitted to kill the animals, said Barry L. Warner of the game commission's law enforcement bureau.
Meanwhile, most of the communities in southeastern Pennsylvania, including Montgomery County and Lower Bucks County, are allowed to "dispose" of
raccoons because they are overpopulated with the animals, Warner said.
The communities include Abington, Cheltenham, Horsham, Lower Moreland, Springfield, Upper Dublin, Upper Moreland, Whitemarsh, Whitpain and boroughs surrounded by those townships, including Rockledge and Jenkintown.
William Wasserman, a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game
Commission responsible for 19 municipalities in the eastern Montgomery County area, said he was glad Rockledge had hired a licensed trapper to remove
raccoons because there was no way he could respond to all the complaints he received.
"I receive 500 raccoon complaints a year" from a total of 2,000 complaints related to animals, Wasserman said.
He commended Cheltenham's and Jenkintown's programs of lending traps to residents as a cost-effective way of handling the problem.
But Jenkintown officials said residents had not been borrowing the traps
because they feared contracting rabies.
Although the rabies problem has reached epidemic proportions in the central Pennsylvania counties of York and Dauphin, rabies is not a problem in southeastern Pennsylvania, Wasserman said.
"We have not had one single positive rabies case in Montgomery County this year," he said.
In 1986, there were no raccoon rabies cases in Montgomery County reported to the state Department of Health and only one case of raccoon rabies reported in Bucks County. This year, there were no reported cases in either county as of April 30.
Nonetheless, said Richard Berman, a field investigator with the state health department, the rabies epidemic is migrating east. Since Feb. 13, a new state law has been in effect requiring pet owners to have their dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies. Violators could face up to $300 a day in fines.