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Raccoon infestation hits lakefront

Chicago’s lakefront is like a giant hotel for hundreds of species of birds, rabbits, foxes and coyotes. But an influx of raccoons has led to a mass eviction in recent weeks.

About 120 of the small mammals have been trapped between Belmont and Montrose harbors on the North Side as well as near the harbors at Jackson Park, Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said.

“There’s been some reports that they’re living under docks and ransacking boats and being aggressive toward people. So obviously it’s a public safety issue,” Maxey-Faulkner said. Raccoons carry roundworm, which can be deadly to humans. The trapped raccoons have been euthanized.

Maxey-Faulkner said the park district has had to remove raccoons at other parks and there have been complaints about them on the lakefront in the past.

But nothing like this.

“It is not unusual to receive a report of a raccoon in a park on occasion, but we don’t recall a time when they have been in such abundance,” Maxey-Faulkner said.

Complaints from boaters in particular started coming in last summer and the park district decided to tackle it this spring. Westrec Marinas, which manages the harbors, subcontracted with suburban Ampest Exterminating & Wildlife Control to trap and euthanize the animals. Money for the project — less than $25,000 — was taken from the harbor budget, which Maxey-Faulkner said is funded by boat slip and concession receipts.

“They were calling this, classifying this as an infestation,” Dan Peifer, Ampest service manager, referring to the call he got from officials about the raccoon problem along the lakefront.

His firm has a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to remove nuisance animals. In 2009, the most recent year for available statistics, private firms and animal control offices in the 8-county region that includes Cook County, removed nearly 17,000 so-called nuisance raccoons, according to the IDNR.

The lakefront raccoons are caught in live cage traps that are checked daily — usually in the morning — and the animals are removed accordingly, Peifer said.

State law allows trappers multiple options in cases like this — from releasing the animal within 100 yards of where they were caught to turning them over to a veterinarian who is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to “humane” euthanization, according to IDNR spokesman Tim Schweizer.

While he wasn’t familiar with the raccoon problem on Chicago’s lakefront, he did say that euthanization in many cases is the only option when there’s “overpopulation.”

“You don’t want to take a problem from one location and create a problem somewhere else,” he said.

In this case, the animals were taken to Ampest’s facilities, where they are placed in a CO2 chamber, Peifer said.

Charlotte Newfeld, steward of the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary along the lakefront near Addison, says the raccoon problem can be squarely blamed on other humans.

“This is all the fault of the general public that comes out and tries to feed what they think is a Disney-like creature, which it’s not,” Newfeld said. “We’ve had feeders out there, whom we’ve had police arrest, and the still continue to give them food.”



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