New bill would expand farmers’ ability to trap or kill varmints

By: - January 30, 2023 5:46 pm

Iowa’s raccoon population is higher than it’s been in more than 10 years. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Natural Resources)

Several wild animals could be trapped or killed without state permission if they pose a “nuisance” to farmers, under an Iowa House bill that was discussed Monday.

Those animals include coyotes, groundhogs, opossums, raccoons and skunks.

The new legislation — House File 118, introduced by Dean Fisher, a Garwin Republican — follows a significant increase in Iowa’s raccoon population. The animals are notorious for consuming sweet corn before it is harvested.

An Iowa Department of Natural Resources survey last year showed the raccoon population is its highest in more than a decade and has increased about 130% since 2007.

Those surveys are conducted in the spring by driving certain roads and using spotlights to identify a variety of creatures. The number of raccoons have been unusually high in recent years. The DNR also spotted the survey’s highest number of coyotes, opossums and skunks last year.

The new bill would allow the owner or tenant of agricultural property or their agent to capture or kill the nuisance animals. It was discussed by a House subcommittee on Monday.

What constitutes a “nuisance” is not defined in the bill.

“A nuisance could be something as simple as: If we’ve had problems with opossums before, in my mind, they’re a nuisance, I can just kill that animal, or any of the five on that list,” said Jim Obradovich, a lobbyist for the Iowa Conservation Alliance, which opposes the legislation. “And that it is very problematic to us.”

Under current regulations, some of those animals can be trapped or killed with the permission of the DNR to protect people or private property. No permission is needed if its “impractical or impossible” to get prior consent.

Further, the DNR currently allows landowners to dispense with groundhogs and coyotes, and it is considering a new rule that would extend that to nuisance raccoons.

“I think it’s almost overkill — no offense — to do this,” said Bruce Rhoads, a professional nuisance wildlife trapper.

Rhoads and other trappers who spoke at the subcommittee hearing on Monday said it takes vigilance to ensure that animals don’t die in traps, especially during hot summer months. He said inexperienced trappers might not check their traps frequently enough.

“When I’m doing nuisance wildlife jobs, I want to know whether I’ve got a raccoon in a trap on a 100-degree day first thing in the morning,” he said. “I’m starting my day at 5 (a.m.), and we’ve got to get that animal out of that trap. And I get that maybe we’re trying to classify these animals as vermin at this point, but we still can’t treat them like you would treat a rat.”

Fisher, who introduced the bill, said the legislation is intended to allow farmers and landowners to better protect their crops by proactively dealing with the animals. He left open the option to modify the bill to specify who can act as an “agent” for the landowners and whether the land must be zoned agricultural before the subcommittee recommends it for passage.

“Farmers should be able to protect their livelihood,” said Kevin Kuhle, a lobbyist for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. “We’ve seen significant crop damage from raccoons and out-of-control population, not only for farm farmers, but if you’re growing for a farmers’ market, a group of raccoons can decimate your livelihood for a whole season.”

Editor’s note: Jim Obradovich is married to Iowa Capital Dispatch editor-in-chief Kathie Obradovich.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.