J.R. Nocerino knew things were getting out of control when he saw a family of five raccoons walking through Forest Hills in broad daylight. Although the species is nocturnal and at home in the wild, these critters were casually prancing down 68th Drive, showing no fear of humans or automobiles.
"They're getting bolder and bolder," he said. "One buddy of mine found a raccoon swimming in his pool."
A rarity 10 years ago, raccoons are popping up all over Forest Hills these days, it would seem. Recently, they have been sighted near the tracks, on the Forest Hills Little League baseball fields, on residential fences, in trees, and of course, in garbage cans.
"We're getting inundated," Nocerino said.
Though cute and cuddly-looking, raccoons can be vicious, especially if a mother thinks her brood might be in danger. They also, more seriously, present a rabies risk, although city data reveals that no rabid raccoons have been found in Queens this year. (Over 100 sick creatures have been trapped in Manhattan's Central Park, Brooklyn and the Bronx.)
On a citywide basis, raccoon-related 311 calls have increased by about 300 this year — as compared to the same time span last year — to roughly 2,400.
"They're just scaring the heck out of people," said District Manager Frank Gulluscio.
Locals point their fingers at the year-old , which houses a high school and a middle school, as one reason for the recent spike. Some residents have claimed that the construction noise in the area made the critters move to quieter, more residential parts of town, especially since the school replaced the densely-wooded area where the nests would have been.
Residents also blamed city policy, noting that the NYC Department of Health will only remove a raccoon when it is sick or rabies is suspected.
City Council member Elizabeth Crowley, whose district includes Glendale, Middle Village and Woodhaven, has decided that enough is enough. She has introduced a bill that would force the NYC Health Department to remove raccoons from public and private property whenever a citizen makes a formal request.
If enacted into law, the legislation would require the health department to create a humane way to dispose of any unwanted raccoons, likely by capturing them and releasing them in areas outside the city.
In the meantime, Gulluscio encouraged locals to seal up their trash cans.
Lifelong Glendale resident Frank Kotnik Jr., who has patrolled Mid-Queens for decades as part of the 104th Precint Civilian Observation Patrol, said that a raccoon invasion might be the sign of better times. "The City of New York is becoming a friendlier place for animals," he said. "The air is cleaner ... and we have good restaurants."
Kotnik also reported that raccoons have run amok in Glendale for at least 15 years.
If the trend of wildlife migrating from his neighborhood to Forest Hills continues, he warned residents of a possible impending dilemna.
"I'm starting to see more possums near my house, " he said.