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Oh, rats: Who's right about D.C.'s rodent law?

Thursday - 1/19/2012, 8:18pm  ET

cuccinelli.jpg
Cuccinelli recently made his sentiments about the District's wildlife law clearly known. (AP)

Mark Segraves, wtop.com

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli responded to this story. Click here to see his comments.

WASHINGTON - Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is in a war of words with District lawmakers over rats.

He is accusing D.C. officials of being soft on rodents, but District lawmakers are shooting back saying rats are not protected under a 2010 wildlife law.

The feud has filtered over into the private sector. D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who introduced the legislation, has received threatening emails from constituents furious over the city's perceived sympathy for rats.

Click here to read all the emails. Editors note: The emails use vulgar language when referring to Cheh and one is a borderline threat.

In recent press interviews, the attorney general -- who hopes to be the commonwealth's next governor -- has used a rat outbreak at the Occupy D.C. encampments to pounce on a D.C. law he says protects rats and encourages wildlife control operators to relocate them and other wild animals to Virginia.

D.C. officials have disputed Cuccinelli's assertions. So WTOP has taken each of Cuccinelli's comments and fact-checked them with various sources.

The below quotes in bold and italics come from a recent interview Cuccinelli gave to CNS News. The attorney general declined to be interviewed by WTOP for this story.

Attorney General Cuccinelli: "D.C. has a new law as of last year."

TRUE: The Wildlife Protection Act of 2010 took effect in March of last year. It is one of the most stringent wildlife laws in the nation.

Attorney General Cuccinelli: "...that doesn't allow them to kill the dang rats."

FALSE: The law specifically exempts from protection "commensal rodents" such as rats and mice, and the law does allow for the killing of any wild animal if trapping is not an option.

The law specifically allows for euthanasia of any wild animal "if relocation or rehabilitation are not feasible."

A spokesperson for Cuccinelli told reporters that the rice rat and the deer mouse are not protected, because they don't fall under the definition of "commensal rodent."

The legislation does not define "commensal rodents," but they are commonly defined as types of mice and rats. For example: "Living with or in close association to humans. Although many species of rodents occasionally may be found around humans, the term 'commensal rodents' refers specifically to mice and rats."

That's clear enough for the agency in charge of enforcing the law. Christophe Tulou, director of the District's Department of the Environment, says as far as he's concerned, a rat is a rat.

"We don't check IDs," he says.

But Dixon Herman, vice president of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association, says this is one of the problems with the new law.

"It's too subjective," Herman tells WTOP. He says some states do define "commensal rodents," and they exclude the rice rat.

John Hadidian -- a senior scientist of wildlife at the U.S. Humane Society and former biologist for the National Park Service -- says rice rats aren't an issue here.

"I've never heard of them in this area in my 30 years working here," he says. "I've never ever heard of any complaints of rice rats."

But again, since the regulatory agency isn't distinguishing between types of rats, and because the law allows for the killing of all wildlife, the attorney general was wrong.

Attorney General Cuccinelli: "They have to capture them."

FALSE: The law does call for humane capture as the preferred method of removal, but not as the only mandated option: "Provider shall recommend and employ nonlethal means in preference to lethal means for the control of wildlife problems."

Attorney General Cuccinelli: "...and capture them in families. You go figure out how you can do that with rats."

FALSE: Again rats are exempt, but as for other wildlife, the law encourages efforts to maintain families when possible. The law states:"A wildlife control services provider shall make every reasonable effort to preserve family units using humane eviction or displacement and reunion strategies and shall not knowingly abandon dependent young wildlife in a structure."

Attorney General Cuccinelli: "And then you gotta relocate them ... If you don't relocate them about 25 miles away, according to experts, rodents will find their way back. Well, an easy way to solve that problem is to cross a river, and what's on the other side of the river? Virginia."

TRUE and FALSE: While the law does call for relocating wildlife, rats again are exempt. And for most of his comments, the attorney general was referring to rats.

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