City leaders in Bath met Thursday with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials on a proposal to trap and kill potentially rabid animals, but a final plan is still likely two weeks away.

City spokeswoman Lindsey Goudreau said a public meeting would be scheduled once “plans have been completely drawn up, and we feel confident in our approach.”

“That means that, unfortunately, the meeting will probably not take place until the last week of February or first week of March,” she said.

The Bath City Council voted last week to take the drastic step to deal with a rash of fox attacks dating back to last year. Although details are still being debated, the plan would involve partnering with state and federal wildlife officials to trap rabies vector animals, including foxes, skunks and raccoons, and then euthanize them.

Since that vote, opposition has mounted from some who don’t believe killing off a bunch of animals is the right approach. A Facebook group, started Wednesday by a local artist, already had more than 300 members by Friday afternoon.

The midcoast city has endured several recent high-profile attacks involving foxes that later tested positive for rabies. The number of confirmed rabies cases in Bath in 2019 was 16, half of them foxes. That was four times the number in the next closest community and twice as many as all of Cumberland County. So far in 2020, there have been four cases in Bath, all of them involving foxes.

Statewide, the number of rabies cases has increased dramatically in the last five years, from 33 in 2015 to 105 last year. Part of the increase is due to more awareness and better testing. The most common animals found with rabies are raccoons and skunks, but the last three years have seen many more cases involving both grey and red foxes. Bats also are highly susceptible to rabies.

Despite the opposition to trapping, state officials said it’s a common tool used to manage the population of some species and said other options for Bath had been ruled out as cost-prohibitive or ineffective.

Kdb Dominguez, who started the Facebook group, said the impact of killing off foxes or other large mammals would be dramatic. She said those animals are relied on to control the population of smaller mammals like mice, voles and rats. And those smaller animals are major carriers of ticks, whose population already has exploded over the last several years.

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