This story was updated at 5:26 p.m. with more information.
A local volunteer wildlife rehabilitation center for skunks, foxes and raccoons is crying foul after a couple dozen raccoons were euthanized over two years after reportedly displaying aggressive behavior toward campers at Chester Frost Park.
For Fox Sake Wildlife Rescue posted its displeasure with the situation online Wednesday morning, writing that they were "very upset" the animals were killed. The wildlife organization had been releasing raccoons into the park over the last year, about three total in 2019, according to organization director Juniper Russo.
"We were very upset to learn recently that Hamilton County, Tennessee is hiring pest control companies at taxpayer expense to kill raccoons in Chester Frost Park and other publicly owned natural areas," Russo wrote in a Facebook post. "The reason given for this mass slaughter is that they say there is an 'overabundance' of raccoons in our county parks. People go to natural parks to see nature. Killing the animals that are part of our native ecosystem is hypocritical and unnecessarily cruel."
Russo said she had received permission from someone at the county's parks and recreation department to release the animals on public property as long as it wasn't in an urban area.
Department Director Tom Lamb disputed that claim.
"No one has been given permission, just open permission, to release any wildlife at Chester Frost Park," he said. "We have worked with more than a few rehabilitators to release animals in and around Enterprise South [Nature Park]. I can tell you my office has not been contacted nor given permission to any organization to release wildlife into Chester Frost Park. That would be a safety concern."
The Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department received complaints last summer about raccoons approaching campsites in the middle of the day aggressively attempting to take food and other items, according to Lamb. The county, which operates the popular campground, received three complaints in one week.
County personnel contracted with a company to remove aggressive raccoons, about 15 or 20 in total, from the property last summer. About two weeks ago, the department got another wave of complaints. It has received more than 10 total since last summer, Lamb said. The county had a certified company come back to the park and remove more raccoons. Chester Frost Park was the only public area where raccoons were being removed, according to Lamb.
"Each park is managed differently," Lamb said. "At Enterprise South [Nature Park], it wouldn't be like this, but Chester Frost is managed differently. It is built and designed as a public campground. Our primary concern, along with protecting the wildlife, is public safety."
State law limits how park operators can handle raccoons due to the fear of spreading disease. The county would typically call the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for wildlife concerns, but the agency doesn't normally send personnel to handle nuisance animals such as raccoons in these sorts of situations.
There are limited options to legally remove the animals once they become aggressive. In Hamilton County, raccoons trapped on a property must be released on the same property, killed or taken by a certified company to be euthanized.
Relocation is not a solution, according to a TWRA guide on raccoons. It is ineffective and illegal in some areas of Tennessee due to rabies. The guide also notes the practice is inhumane, as the animals would have to fight with already established raccoons for territory. It is also ecologically destructive as it disrupts already established populations.
"It's unfortunate that wildlife management is not a fuzzy and cute issue," Lamb said. "But we're all required to follow state law that has been put out."
Russo would prefer for the park system to install bear-proof trash cans that would cost less rather than "continuously pay to slaughter animals who have done no harm," she said.
"It's not a wholesale slaughter. I say that sort of tongue-in-cheek because that's what's being put out there," Lamb said. "State law is very specific. We can only utilize state licensed control operators. Once they come, they have state regulations. They're required to euthanize them."