INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is proposing a rule that could lead to the deaths of thousands of raccoons, opossums and coyotes across the state.

The new rule would require animal control workers to euthanize any of the three species if caught, instead of having the option to release them, the Indianapolis Star reported . Animal control workers currently are permitted to release the wildlife within the county they captured it and on land where they have permission.

The agency and some animal control businesses have said the change could help prevent nuisance problems and the spread of disease, such as distemper and rabies.

But other industry workers, animal rehabilitators and wildlife groups have argued the rule is inhumane and would damage populations.

"This takes away any kind of discretion from these operators and those homeowners who want to use a more humane method," said Erin Huang, the Indiana director of the Human Society of the United States. "They won't have that choice, and I don't see the purpose for taking that away."

Kirk Neuner, an animal control worker, said the rule change is the most humane treatment for the animals, which can become stressed once released in a new location without knowledge of where to find food or water.

The agency didn't respond to the newspaper's request for comment.

The agency's proposal document said, "Euthanizing a coyote, raccoon, and opossum trapped under the nuisance wild animal control permit can prevent problems for others without harming the population."

Advanced Pest Control owner Michael Meservy said he's concerned that these animal populations won't be able to recover if females and babies are disproportionally killed. He said he most frequently catches female raccoons and opossums with their babies.

"There is no way I can morally look at myself in a mirror knowing I'm slaughtering hundreds of animals a year," said Meservy. "This is not why I got into this line of work."

The agency proposed changes before the Natural Resources Commission, which is accepting public input until March 23. The commission will vote in May.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com