BATH — The public will have its chance to sound off on a controversial plan to trap animals in Bath aimed at stemming a spike in rabid animal attacks over the past year.

The city is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to conduct the trapping. The goal is to reduce the population of rabies-carrying species, such as gray and red foxes, skunks and raccoons, in the areas of Bath hit by the rabies virus over the past 13 months.

Bath officials have scheduled a public meeting to answer questions about the trapping effort city councilors unanimously approved earlier this month. The meeting will take place on 5-6 p.m. Thursday, March 5, in the Fisher Mitchell School cafeteria in Bath.

Experts from the USDA and IF&W will answer questions. Priority will be given to questions from Bath residents, according to Lindsay Goudreau, Bath’s marketing and communication specialist.

At least 10 people have been attacked by foxes in the past 13 months.

“In total, the Maine Center for Disease Control confirmed 16 (cases of rabies) in Bath in 2019,” said Bath City Manager Peter Owen earlier this month. “In 2018, there were two cases of rabies. Between 2015 and 2017, there were none. From 2018 to 2019 we have an over 700% increase in cases of rabies.”


So far in 2020, there have been five instances of rabid fox attacks in the southern Midcoast — one in Bath, three in West Bath and one in Phippsburg.

Brunswick saw nine cases of rabies in 2018, the most of any municipality in the state that year.

Bath’s proposed trapping process, which will cost $26,611, is scheduled to take place over 10 days before the end of March.

The traps are not supposed to be lethal or harm the animal, but every fox, skunk and raccoon caught in the traps will be euthanized. This is because it is impossible to confirm whether an animal is infected with rabies while it is alive because brain tissue needs to be tested.

An animal can be rabid without showing symptoms. Once an animal starts displaying symptoms, it will die within 10 days, according to Rachel Keefe, a state epidemiologist.

“It’s an extreme measure,” Owen said, “but clearly from the numbers we’re faced with some extreme events. With that, we feel the obligation to bring something forward that is extreme.”


The city’s trapping plan met strong opposition from a Facebook group, created by local artist kdb Dominguez. Dominguez created an online petition calling for the cancelation of the plan to euthanize the animals caught. The petition, which was 40 signatures short of its 1,000-signature goal as of Wednesday, called the city to consider other mitigation options.

Goudreau told the Portland Press Herald she expected some backlash to the trapping plan, but worries that some of it might be rooted in misinformation. Some earlier news stories indicated that as many as 400 animals would be killed, which is incorrect.

“We expected this to create a little outcry, but we’re sort of at a place where we’re darned if we do, darned if we don’t,” said Goudreau.

Shevenell Webb, a biologist at the IF&W, attributed the continued rabies cases to the mild winter the Midcoast has experienced. Rabies clusters are all related to animal populations. A higher animal population poses a higher risk of disease and the spread of disease. It is difficult to trap foxes in an urban area like Bath and they have few predators.

“I think what we’re finding in the Bath-Brunswick area is they have a high population of people and a high population of wildlife,” she said, which results in more interaction between the two.

Oral rabies vaccinations have also been considered but are expensive and wouldn’t be effective in an urban area like Bath, Webb said. The USDA airdrops fishmeal baits carrying raccoon rabies vaccinations in northern Maine to keep rabies from spreading further north. It’s a multi-year, multi-million dollar project that still only results in about one-third of animals in the program area with immunity to rabies.

Rabies is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal. It infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. Vaccines are 100 percent effective in combating the disease in humans. Rabies is fatal if left untreated.

State wildlife experts have urged people to take measures to protect themselves, such as keeping an eye out for animals acting strangely, carrying a stick or pepper spray, and not leaving out food that could attract the animals.

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