Each passing year, wildlife problems and conflicts appear to be increasing in the Commonwealth, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which has been managing the state’s wildlife for more than 100 years. And not just in the country. More and more, wildlife is getting into trouble in urban and suburban areas. In fact, wildlife nuisance control work has become a thriving business in most cities and suburban areas.
Over the past 10 years, the number of individuals holding wildlife pest control licenses has more than doubled. It’s increased from about 200 license-holders in 1992 to about 420 this year. We believe the increase has been spurred by increasing residential development, a decrease in trapper numbers and loss of wildlife habitat.
Of course, these wildlife problems are compounded by people who draw wildlife into residential areas with feeders and improperly-stored garbage. And it doesn’t help communities that hunting and trapping cannot be pursued within their limits because of safety zone limitations. That leaves most population control work to wildlife pest control agents, or, unfortunately, automobiles and pets.
Many of Pennsylvania’s furbearer populations have increased significantly as market prices for pelts have dropped over the past 20 years. This has led to increases in the numbers of opossums, raccoons, skunks and beavers – even mink and coyotes – in many areas. In addition, expanding communities and new rural housing developments are placing more and more homes right on the doorstep of thriving wildlife habitats. As a result, deer, bears, groundhogs, squirrels, and myriad songbirds are becoming increasingly comfortable hanging out in backyards and similar places.
Sometimes wildlife is attracted to our properties because we intentionally or unintentionally coax it there with feeder handouts, tossed out table scraps or garbage leftovers. Few of us would argue that wildlife is not worth watching, or having around occasionally. But when deer are stripping your ornamental shrubbery, or a bear has demolished your $60 bird feeder, or the pitter-patter of squirrel feet running across your bare attic floor is keeping you awake at night, it’s a different story!
However, the problems don’t end there. More often than not, it’s going to cost you at least time and probably money to alleviate a wildlife nuisance problem. In a lot of situations, though, homeowners can help themselves. They simply need to be armed with the right information and equipment to get the job done. Trying to resolve a problem blindly can result in more headaches, more expenses and the embarrassment of being outwitted by an animal that will become even more difficult to deter or catch because of the education you’ve provided it.
One of the most common wildlife problems Pennsylvanians face is garden raiding. The culprits are usually rabbits, groundhogs and deer, but occasionally a raccoon or bear will drop in for things like sweet corn and berries. Inexpensive solutions include using scarecrows, hanging pie tins and spraying peppery liquids on plants. But animals will adjust to these tactics. Many home gardeners also place fences around their gardens. But if animals climb over or dig under a fence, you may have to consider setting a live-trap to apprehend your raider.
Live-traps come in a variety of sizes and are of a cage-with-closing-door design. These traps are ideal for residential areas because if you catch the neighbor’s pet by mistake, all you have to do is open the door to release the dog or cat from the trap. Troublesome rabbits and squirrels can be relocated to another area. However, anyone who sets one of these traps must recognize it has the potential to catch something other than he or she may have ever expected; namely a skunk.
Every year, the Game Commission receives calls from people who set live traps and catch skunks by mistake. The problem, of course, is what to do with the skunk. It’s liable to spray just about anyone who comes near the trap, even if the person is just trying to set it free.
Questions that usually come to mind are: How can it be released? Who will help me?
Since skunks – as well as raccoons, bats, groundhogs, foxes and coyotes – are rabies vector species, they should not be relocated like other wildlife. Homeowners who set traps and catch these species face the choice of killing the animal or releasing it. Releasing a skunk or a raccoon can be a risky situation. There’s a chance that you could be sprayed by the skunk, or bitten or scratched. What follows promises to be unpleasant. You’ll either have to be deodorized or anxiously await test results on the trapped animal’s brain tissue to determine if it’s rabid.
A person should put a great deal of thought into any plan that calls for using a trap to resolve a nuisance wildlife problem. Getting and setting the trap is the easy part. Dealing with what happens after the door closes, however, truly can be more than most homeowners bargained for.
Before you set a trap to resolve a wildlife conflict, ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you prepared to kill the trapped animal?
2. Do you know how to properly dispose of an animal carcass?
3. Do you know how to release a trapped animal?
4. Do you know what bait should be used to ensure you catch the targeted species?
5. Do you know how frequently you must check a trap set to capture wildlife?
If you can answer “yes” to the aforementioned questions then you should know what you’re getting into when you set a trap. Landowners and homeowners may not trap beavers, bobcats, migratory birds, big game, threatened species or endangered species. Landowners should contact their district Wildlife Conservation Officer through the Region Office before trapping nuisance wildlife. Also, once traps are set, they must be checked daily.
Wildlife taken alive may not be retained alive, sold, or given away. Live wildlife may be relocated to a natural setting. Any wildlife killed must be reported to the Game Commission.
Wildlife also has a habit of establishing homes under our sheds, in the banks of our ponds, even in our houses. These intrusions can range from bats or flying squirrels in the attic to chipmunks under the sidewalk and songbirds nesting in your hanging fuchsia or prized rosebush.
Sometimes it’s rewarding to have wildlife living on your property, because it can be fun to watch. But that enjoyment can change quickly when wildlife begins to invade your living quarters, causes significant property damage or has close, uncomfortable encounters with people around your home.
The solutions to these problems vary, but they include everything from hiring a wildlife pest control agent, using traps and making modifications to your home, to removing certain vegetation, placing fence and hunting. Exclusion and trapping are probably the two most commonly used approaches for dealing with nuisance wildlife.
Exclusion can be effective for some species, such as rabbits, bats, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, groundhogs, Canada geese and other waterfowl. But such work shouldn’t be considered a panacea. Animals sometimes make adjustments to access your property, instead of moving on.
Timing for exclusion work also is important. For instance, it would be a bad idea to make modifications that would exclude bats from your attic during summer. That’s when these sites serve as maternity colonies; summer exclusions force bats trapped inside to enter your home’s living quarters in their search for a way out.
The same holds true for maternity dens inhabited by skunks, raccoons, squirrels and groundhogs. Let the young leave the maternity site – it’s a good bet to wait until fall – and then exclude them from your home or property by blocking access to the den site. Groundhog dens inhabited by other wildlife can be rendered uninhabitable by filling them with rocks and dirt. Wait, of course, until the animal is out of the den. Usually only a groundhog will exhume the fill.
Squirrels are a species that tends to get on the nerves of many homeowners. Their most common crimes are digging in flower beds, chewing on expensive bird feeders and houses, and taking food from bird feeders. They can be excluded from bird feeders by placing feeders on a pole with a squirrel baffle and located away from trees. Removing bird feeders during summer and early fall also compels squirrels to relocate elsewhere. Trapping and transferring squirrels also is effective, but squirrels – particularly in places where large numbers converge – can become trap-shy rather quickly. Good baits for trapping squirrels include: peanut butter, ear corn, sunflower seeds and apple slices.
Lawn raiders and ransackers such as skunks, Canada geese, groundhogs and moles all present somewhat differing approaches to resolve. Canada geese, which can quickly lay waste to any yard near water by smothering it with feces, can be discouraged by exploding devices, scarecrows, fencing and hunting. Geese currently cannot be killed unless hunted legally because they are protected by federal laws.
Skunks, which occasionally rip up lawns in search of grubs or get drawn to a compost pile, can be deterred with fencing. Trapping is used to eliminate skunks. Should you or your dog be sprayed by a skunk while attempting to alleviate a problem, use the follow concoction to eliminate skunk odor: mix one quart of hydrogen peroxide with a quarter-cup of baking soda and a teaspoon of liquid soap. Apply the mixture to the sprayed area and it will neutralize the skunk’s musky odor.
Groundhogs and moles are lawn excavators that can make a mess of a yard quickly. Both problem animals are best handled through trapping. Groundhogs can be caught with baits such as apples, carrots or lettuce. Moles are best removed with hole or bayonet-type traps, which kill the animal as it passes through a trap armed with spring-loaded bayonets that is placed in the animal’s underground runways.
Wading birds such as great blue herons and great egrets also have become the bane of many rural and suburban areas because they are pilfering the expensive fish property owners are putting in backyard ponds. Solutions to this problem are few. The basic choices are put rocks or other cover in the water for fish to hide around, or locate your pond close to the house. But rest assured, if these wading birds see your pond while foraging, and it’s not close to a house, they’ll probably stop by because they’ve learned that hunting in these ponds is like picking fish out of a barrel.
Some people draw wildlife into neighborhoods or onto their properties by offering wildlife foods such as seed or suet; throwing table scraps out back; improperly storing garbage; outside pet feeding; or maintaining a grease-loaded grill. Litter – even discarded candy – also will attract wildlife. Stopping these activities can certainly make a difference when wildlife has become a nuisance in your area. Cleanliness should be a standard operating procedure for those not interested in sharing their space with wild animals.
Still, some properties, regardless of how well they’re cleaned, will continue to attract wildlife because important travelways pass through them, or preferred habitat, or plentiful natural food sources – mulberry, cherry or oak trees – are found there. In these cases, landowners must understand that if their properties provide some of the area’s best habitat – a wetland, high-banked dam, woodlot, fruit- or mast-bearing trees – they will continue to attract wildlife. This is especially true in areas where your property appears to be an island in a sea of suburbia.