The Wildgrass Homeowners Association (HOA) of Broomfield, Colorado’ had a problem: rabbits. The cute little furry carrot-nibblers had been breeding like, well, je ne sais quoi.
Those long-eared, short-snouted varmints had been chewing up the gardens, burrowing tunnels in the landscaping, dropping pellets in the walkways, and generally making themselves less cute than Big Rabbit PR would have you believe.
If they were rats or mice, it would be easy; they could trap or poison them without a problem. No one would bat an eye. But these were rabbits, not rats. The HOA board also had to deal with public sentiment as the community itself wasn’t prepared to see the rabbits slaughtered.
In the end, the board found a graceful way out. One of their residents volunteered to pay the cost of relocating the rabbits to Creative Acres, a 44 acre wildlife refuge near Brighton. Creative Acres agreed to take 200 of the little pests.
Problem solved, right?
Not quite. The association also had to deal with a set of laws called ‘nuisance wildlife’ laws. These are state, or sometimes municipal, laws that place restrictions on what landlords can do to reduce the populations of certain species of animals.
Before they could move a single rabbit, the HOA president had to get the express permission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife – which placed a whole new series of obstacles in their way.
The HOA had to find a way to comply with nuisance wildlife laws, which all HOA boards should also familiarize themselves with before taking any hunting, trapping or extermination action. In Colorado, the law allowed the HOA to kill any animals it caught in its traps, but they needed to provide advance notice to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
They also had to comply with a law that required the relocation occur within 10 miles of capture for cottontail rabbits. If they were trapping raccoons, the relocation site had to be within two miles. For any other species, however, they needed to get a permit. Note that the rules would have been different for cottontail rabbit species than for hares, jackrabbits or other members of the rabbit family.
The HOA also had to take care to comply with Colorado laws restricting the kind of traps it could use. Body-gripping or killing traps, snares, conibears and leg traps are normally prohibited in Colorado except to trap rats and mice, or – with a permit – to protect commercial livestock or commercial crop production.
By setting traps, the HOA also committed to complying with a Colorado law requiring all traps to be visually checked every day.
At the end of the day, however, Bigwig, Fiver, Blackberry, Hazel and the rest of the cast of Watership Down didn’t have to die in their traps after all. Instead, the HOA got the permit they needed from Colorado Parks and Wildlife without any trouble, residents paid the cost of the trapping transportation, and the animals were relocated to their new warren across town to live and breed happily ever after.
No word yet on whether Former President Jimmy Carter is moving in anytime soon.
The Big Picture
What, precisely, was the nature of the hazard posed by the rabbits? Was there a threat of disease? Not really. Common rabbit sicknesses like pinworms, other nematodes, tapeworms, and coccidia are not generally transmitted to humans. Some bacterial diseases associated with rabbits have been known to spread to humans – especially with compromised immune systems.
However, rabbits probably pose less of a medical menace to children than Canada goose droppings, raccoon droppings, and droppings from skunks, foxes and other carnivores.
Each of these, and even urine from these animals, can, indeed, spread serious diseases to individuals who come in direct contact. If these are present on your property, you may want to take action because these creatures could pose a public health menace to your community.
What HOAs Should Do
HOA board members should understand the nuisance wildlife rules that apply in their jurisdictions, specifically. They aren’t always intuitive.
For example, Colorado, and many other jurisdictions – specifically forbid taking any action against bears until they present a direct threat to human safety. Running afoul of these rules could mean big fines and even jail sentences for those involved.
They should also consider delegating this function and many other tricky areas involving extensive regulation to professional property managers. Property management professionals deal with these issues on a full-time basis, as opposed to the part-time association board member. This adds a layer of protection to the board, as the management company will be there to advise the board on local laws and regulations.
Hope that helps, and thanks, as always, for writing!
Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, Jason Van Steenwyk started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more.