AVALON - State government officials want to know what this borough is doing with its skunks.

Skunk disposal is an issue that goes back several years. Upper Township Mayor Richard Palumbo protested in 2009 when he got complaints from his residents about skunks being dropped off by Avalon at the Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area. The borough admitted to capturing 74 skunks that fall and releasing about two dozen in Upper Township.

Palumbo said the problem ended after he complained to Mayor Martin Pagliughi.

"I think it was a one-time incident. It was acknowledged by Mayor Pagliughi and we moved on. I don't recall any incidents going forward," Palumbo said.

But where are the skunks going now? Pagliughi said the borough, reacting to complaints from residents, has continued to remove skunks, but he's not saying where they are taken.

"Within the last year we've taken about 80 skunks off the island. We're trapping them and putting them in the witness protection program. We don't know where they're going," Pagliughi said.

But the state Division of Fish and Wildlife wants to know. It controls the relocation, euthanasia or any other movement of wildlife under a policy approved in 1996 and revised numerous times since then.

"They do not have a permit and they should not be removing them," said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"They don't have the right to relocate a species. They have to talk to the Fish and Wildlife folks to assess that."

Ragonese said in certain circumstances a town can relocate wildlife within its own borders, but a permit is needed to go elsewhere. The 4.2-square-mile barrier island, according to Ragonese, probably has suitable places to release the skunks. He said the division doesn't generally recommend taking animals to another town because then they cause a problem there.

There are other issues. Skunks are classified as a rabies species, along with raccoons, foxes, bats and woodchucks. Moving them could move rabies to other areas.

Ragonese also noted that moving an animal to a new habitat can doom them if they cannot adapt to the new surroundings quickly. If there is a public health and safety issue, such as black bears breaking into homes, then the state is more open to moving animals. Ragonese is not convinced Avalon has that argument.

The island has an expansive dune system and a large park.

"Is it a public health and safety issue or is it just that people don't like them? In Avalon there seems to be a natural habitat and a significant habitat for skunks. Unless there is a safety issue or public health issue we would not remove them from a natural area. Two years ago we asked them to stop. They didn't have permission to bring animals to other areas," Ragonese said.

Pagliughi said the borough is merely reacting to complaints from residents, who must call police to report a skunk problem. Pagliughi, who has lived in Avalon for 40 years, said there are no natural skunk predators on the island and their population tends to run in cycles.

Pagliughi said the population has been reduced over the past three years, but he noted there are still a lot out there.

"The police see them during the night, all night long," Pagliughi said.

Pagliughi said it is his understanding that Bill Candell, who handles animal control for the borough, is in contact with the Division of Fish and Game and is allowed to trap skunks when a complaint is made. Candell could not be reached for comment.

"They're classified as wild game and you're limited on what you can do. You can't euthanize them," Pagliughi said.

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