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Gopher snakes, like this one on Upper Table Rock, are included in a proposed new rule that would set limits on how many native, nongame animals could be caught and brought home. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Animals in the house

Oregonians would be limited in how many frogs, snakes and salamanders they could catch and take home, and releasing them back into the wild would be banned under proposed new rules aimed at curbing diseases.

People would be able to keep just two each of a group of common reptiles and mammals deemed plentiful in the wild, while teachers could get permission to keep up to five members of these species under "wildlife holding and propagating rules" now being considered by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Capturing and keeping wild animals often leads to stress that can trigger diseases spread between these animals, other animals and humans, biologists say. Releasing them could spread diseases into the wild and disrupt animal dynamics in an area where animals are released.

Current rules ban the release of nonnative animals in Oregon, but so far there have not been any clear rules involving common native species.

"This is a way to document demand and use of Oregon's wildlife and provide some protections that weren't there before," says Colin Gillin, ODFW's state veterinarian.

"Our goal is to protect Oregon's wildlife, while providing a wildlife resource for Oregonians," Gillin says.

The draft rules, however, do not contain a "no touch" requirement, and they do not restrict, for instance, the capture, photographing and release of a frog or snake on site, says Michelle Dennehy, ODFW's Wildlife Division spokeswoman. The rules would kick in when the animals are taken home, she says.

Agency biologists will present an overview of the draft rules to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission March 18 in Salem. The commission is scheduled to vote on the package June 9-10.

In the meantime, ODFW wants to collect comments on the draft rules, Dennehy says.

"We really do want to hear from people," Dennehy says. "That's one of the reasons we decided to give it more time so people can weigh in."

Under the proposed rules, a teacher could collect two Pacific tree frogs and keep them in an appropriate cage or aquarium in the classroom for study. Teachers could keep even more Pacific tree frogs after obtaining a free Scientific Taking Permit for study and science purposes, provided they are for kindergarten through 12th grades.

Likewise, a parent could collect two tree frogs for an appropriate aquarium at home, according to the draft.

Anyone else holding more than two individual members of a species specified in the draft would be required to buy a $25 annual Wildlife Holding Permit.

Once taken to a home, office or classroom, an animal would need to be held for its lifetime or turned over to an ODFW office so biologists could find an appropriate home or euthanize it, according to the draft rules.

Field trips that involve capturing, studying and releasing these same critters on site remains the preferred alternative, Gillin says.

"It's always better to take students out and learn about the wildlife in place," he says.

That's the mantra at Coyote Trails Nature Center in Medford, where center staff have permits to collect dead birds and small mammals for their museum but don't bring in live critters, says Lynne Reardon, the center's office manager.

"We bring kids to nature, not critters into the classroom," Reardon says.

The draft proposal also would require people who obtain animals such as weasels, skunks and even wolves from breeders and bring them into Oregon to get a $25 a year Wildlife Holding Permit. The permit for wolves would cost $100.

Animals already in possession in Oregon will be grandfathered in, the draft states.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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