Post written by James D. Brown

Our need to plan for nature in our urban landscapes requires a purposeful consideration of how we, as human urban residents, can peacefully co-exist with our more wild neighbors.

Some cities are considering the methods by which these interactions occur, especially how we can humanly treat wildlife that may not always be welcome.[i]

Deer in Rock Creek Park by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post

One emblematic and well discussed legislative effort was undertaken by the Council of the District of Columbia in the form of its Wildlife Protection Act of 2010.[ii]

The Wildlife Protection Act establishes a licensing and regulatory system for “wildlife control operators”. Previously, there were limited provisions that governed the trapping and treatment of “wildlife” within the District. The result was the use of inhumane practices and that also often did not effectively control unwanted interactions with wildlife.

Under the Act, “wildlife” includes all free-roaming animals, but does not include domestic animals, invertebrates, fish and “commensal rodents”. This latter category includes rats and house mice, the control of which is not governed by Act.[iii]

The Act establishes a preference for non-lethal methods for handling wildlife “problems”. The Act stresses the general humane treatment of wildlife and requires that reasonable efforts be undertaken to preserve family units and limits captivity to no more than 36 hours.[iv] The Act also includes detailed requirements for permissible traps.[v]

Targeted wildlife that is captured can be released onsite or transported offsite to a location where they are unlikely to be a “nuisance”. Non-targeted wildlife is to be released onsite regardless unless they pose an “unreasonable risk” to the health and safety of people or domestic animals and, in that case, they are treated the same as targeted wildlife. If any captured wildlife is injured, it can be transferred for medical attention.

The Act does permit operators to euthanize wildlife if relocation or rehabilitation is not possible. The methods for killing or euthanasia must be those most recently approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association Panel on Euthanasia or by regulations of the District Department of the Environment, which is the agency tasked with implementation of the Act.

There are also some species specific limitations. Toxicants cannot be used to control common urban bird species like pigeons, European starlings and house sparrows. The Department of the Environment is also required to adopt specific rules regarding the control of feral cats and dogs.

While the Act was adopted unanimously by the Council and was applauded by the Humane Society of the United States[vi], some specifics of the law drew opposition from the Wildlife Society.[vii]

There was also an unwelcome reception from various entities opposed to what they believed was excessive government intrusion into the methods for controlling rat populations. The basis for this opposition was determined to be largely unfounded because, as mentioned above, the control of rats and house mice are actually purposefully excluded as “commensal rodents” from the terms of the Act.[viii]

Prepared by R.Z. Brown

However, the backlash demonstrates how important public education is for any attempt to redefine our relationship with wildlife in our urban spaces. Even the most carefully crafted and well meaning legislation may be reviewed with a skeptical eye.

Ground Squirrel

In terms of the broader picture, the Act does not establish a new mandate for co-existence with wildlife. Instead, it strives to establish a code for the ethical treatment of wildlife that is still identified as a “problem” and considered at odds with our daily lives.

While the Act is a starting point, it also illustrates how far we have to go in order to truly invite wildlife into our lives in manner where wildlife can co-exist, as opposed to be merely tolerated.

It is helpful to compare the provisions of the Act with other efforts underway by the District Department of the Environment. The Department has developed a Wildlife Action Plan with the goals of documenting the biodiversity of the District, the threats to wildlife and strategies to conserve species.[ix] The Wildlife Action Plan in many ways represents a guide for the District to take the next step towards cultivating and promoting co-existence with wildlife within the District. Take note that an important element of the Plan is public outreach and education.


[i] Two great resources for legal developments in the treatment of wildlife are:
(1)Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center (
(2)The Humane Society of the United States (

[ii] DC Code §§ 8-2201 et seq.

[iii] For more information on these species see:

[iv] See, e.g., DC Code § 8-2202(d) (“Wildlife shall be captured, handled, and, when permissible, transported, in a manner to ensure against causing unnecessary discomfort, behavioral stress, or physical harm to the animal, including providing protections against weather extremes.”)

[v] Traps used by a wildlife control service provider must be:
(1)labeled with contact information for the provider;
(2)set in a manner designed to catch the intended animal and not a “non-target” animal;
(3)checked every 24 hours;
(4)cannot be “sticky or glue traps”;

[vi] Humane Society of the United States Press Release, “The HSUS and Washington Humane Society Praise DC Council for Passing Wildlife Protection Act”, Nov. 9. 2010; Retrieved Feb. 22, 2015 at

[vii] See Letter from Wildlife Society to DC Council dated Nov. 3, 2010. Retrieved Feb. 22, 2015 at

[viii] Michael Markarian, “Your latest home rule issue: D.C.’s pest control law”, Washington Post, Opinion Aug. 5, 2011. Retrieved Feb. 22, 2015 at

[ix] To review the Wildlife Action Plan go to: