KINGFIELD — Maine wildlife disease experts believe the spread of raccoon rabies eventually can be eliminated altogether.

On Tuesday night, Jesse Morris, a specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, said that he provides management resources in many areas of animal health and safety. One program includes rabies research, and he has been monitoring the eastern part of the state and collaborating with New Brunswick researchers to compare data and animal migrations along the Canadian border.

Morris asked selectmen for their help spreading the word in the community about the raccoon density study he hopes to start in July. Morris will monitor the animals’ habitats in selected areas within the town limits.

Where there are large populations of an animal such as raccoons, disease can spread quickly, he said. Rabies is caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system in mammals and is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Although rabies is fatal, vaccines are available to protect people, pets and livestock.

The National Rabies Management Program collects information about the most recent incidences of rabid animals and provides guidance that allows state monitors to stay ahead of what Morris called the “front line.” In the past 25 years, all of the mid-Atlantic and New England states have experienced at least one outbreak. In 2008, a rabid animal was found in Eustis.

“Most animals congregate where there’s human influence,” he said. “Where there’s less density, the rabies dies out.”

Morris said that data will categorize the population densities as low, standard or high. He and technicians will check traps daily, tag all raccoons so they are not counted again and move traps to new areas when a location produces no evidence of a raccoon population. He needs landowner permission to set 50 live traps and hopes to contact willing residents to allow him access.

“I want to get the word out,” he said.

He gave selectmen a form that participants must complete to allow him to set the live traps, which he plans to start doing the second week of July.

In other news, selectmen reviewed the current slate of municipal officers and agreed to approve the positions for another year. They also approved liquor license renewals for The Doors Bistro, Longfellow’s Restaurant and the Herbert Grand Hotel.

In other news, Bentley Woodcock, a representative of the local ATV club, asked selectmen to allow passage of the vehicles over a 60-foot right-of-way owned by the town. He said the club has contacted other property owners, with a goal to connect Kingfield trails with other parts of the state.

“Our goal is to connect with Bingham,” he said. “We’d have the largest unbroken ATV trail in the United States.”

ATVs are permitted to ride 500 yards from one trail head to another and must not interfere with traffic or present a traffic hazard. Woodcock said ATVs have to follow the same road laws as any other motorized vehicles, and local clubs try to monitor and intercept any behavior that would hurt the reputation of law-abiding club members. He said he tries to respond to any complaints within a 24-hour period.

“I have the warden’s service on speed dial on my cellphone,” he said.

Board Chairwoman Heather Moody suggested selectmen offer the public a chance to ask questions and look at a map of the proposed route. Woodcock said the local ATV club hopes to offer the expanded trail access during Kingfield Days in mid-July. Selectmen agreed to meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 30, to hear public comment and make a decision.


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