Nuisance animal bill would make farmers ‘honest folks’

Legislation introduced by Rep. Dean Fisher

State Rep. Dean Fisher (R-Montour)

An Iowa House bill that advanced out of committee Tuesday, Feb. 14 would make legal a common practice among some farmers who kill — without state approval — animals that harm their crops, livestock or machinery, said Rep. Dean Fisher, a Garwin Republican and farmer who introduced the bill.

House File 118 would allow farmers to trap and kill wild animals — such as groundhogs, opossums, raccoons and skunks — without first contacting the Iowa Department of Natural Resources if they are a “nuisance.”

“At the end of the day, I’m looking to make honest folks out of all our farmers who have to deal with these nuisances,” Fisher said.

He said “a lot” of farmers deal with the animals proactively — that is, before any damage is done — without getting required state permission.

“Because there’s a culture of breaking the rules or the law, we change the law?” said Rep. Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City. “That concerns me. I do understand that you’re talking about a specific situation, but just in general, that precedent concerns me.”

Levin’s comments came during a House Natural Resources Committee meeting Tuesday, in which the bill got a support from a majority of committee members. A similar bill in the Iowa Senate is assigned to a subcommittee but hasn’t had a hearing.

The legislation is partly in response to increases in the state’s raccoon population. A state survey last year revealed the animals are more prevalent than they’ve been in more than 15 years and that their population has increased about 130% since 2007.

The legislation has received the most pushback from trappers who say it takes practice and vigilance to ensure trapped animals don’t suffer.

“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,” Bruce Rhoads, a professional nuisance wildlife trapper, said during a House subcommittee meeting late last month.

Fisher introduced an amendment to the House bill that he said would: alleviate concerns about the use of certain coyote traps; restrict the unregulated culling of nuisance animals to properties that are zoned for agriculture; and specify that the animals can be “shot” rather than “killed,” to prevent the use of poison.

The full details of the amendment were not immediately available.

“I know from experience they’ll destroy a patch (of sweet corn) overnight,” Fisher said of raccoons.

Rep. J.D. Scholten, D-Sioux City, said it’s troubling that the bill doesn’t define “nuisance,” and that the bill might hamstring the DNR’s ability to regulate animal populations. The department is already considering an open season on raccoons to help reduce their ranks.

“Hypothetical speaking, if there was a big disease that wiped out the raccoons, and they all suddenly become endangered, and it’s in the law that they can continue to kill them, what happens after that?” Scholten said.

Fisher said a definition is unnecessary because someone can use a dictionary to determine what is a nuisance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “one that is annoying, unpleasant or obnoxious.”

“The common-sense thing is that we pass this bill so that farmers can just deal with the problem,” Fisher said.