As a licensed trapper, there typically isn't too long a stretch of time before the calls roll in about the odor of skunk oil filling the neighbor's three-season porch, squirrels chewing through the drywall of a bedroom ceiling, or a frantic client raving about their pure-bred pup coming back from the nightly bathroom break with a face-full of porcupine quills. While trapping activities alone could easily solve these examples and many issues like them, there can be other alternatives for compromised results. For the critics who think all us trappers are wild savages, consider this column an olive branch. For my diehard readers - before you think it, I ain't going "soft". However I am a bit overdue to discuss other aspects of being a knowledgeable and skilled trapper. Aspects which sometimes don't involve any traps at all.
For all the time I spend in the back-country pursuing fur-bearer species for pelts and sustenance, I spend even more time throughout the rest of the year educating clients and landowners as to all the options available for dealing with "pest" wildlife issues. Sometimes the issue calls for trapping, and other times it doesn't. It makes sense; licensed trappers know the land and the critters they pursue better than anyone. That important fact in mind, I can't really call myself a true "conservation writer" if I didn't touch on all the ideals that go along with wildlife management and conservation. This includes hunting/trapping, wise & sustainable use, and, when possible, "co-existence". So, let's discuss some non-lethal alternatives to dealing with those "problem" critters that keep the homeowners busy, and keep me thoroughly entertained! Here's a few different tactics the licensed nuisance control trapper and the "average-Joe" homeowner can implement into the management toolbox:
A good way to address wildlife conflict issues with minimal effort is through a process called hazing. Hazing implements unfavorable actions towards problem wildlife which (usually) results in the target animal coming to its own decision to leave a given area or refrain from an unwanted behavior.
For example, I had a bout with woodchucks at my own property last year (yes, even trappers have critter issues from time to time). Woodchucks had decided to use my new leach field as a permanent den residence, which as any homeowner knows, is less than ideal for the overall function and performance of a leach field. Woodchuck burrows can be elaborate, with multiple enter/exit paths and chambers. My kneejerk reaction was to grab the lethal traps and eliminate the issue quickly. However, I know breeding and birthing takes place right around the same time I discovered the issue. I don’t keep any gardens near the area of concern, so outside of the burrowing, the woodchuck’s presence wasn’t really burdensome. Rather than risk the possibility of orphaned young, and deal with the disposal of trapped ‘chucks, I opted to experiment with non-lethal hazing tactics to deter the behavior before reaching for the traps. Woodchucks are a food source for many predators; from coyotes, to foxes, to raptors – my hope was to mimic this aspect and create an environment that appeared dangerous or unfavorable.
Two to three squirts of fox urine down the hole and around the area of the burrows would hopefully convince this groundhog family they'd chosen the wrong place to raise young. Two weeks later the holes were filled in and I've observed the woodchucks on the opposite side of my property in the brush line – far from my gardens, and the leach field!
As for foxes, an old shirt or article of clothing that smells strongly of humans can be placed at the entrance to a fox den under a barn or porch. Coyote urine can also be effective. Momma fox will typically move her pups before trying to tussle with a human invader or competitor at her den site. A radio playing at a soft, but constant volume has worked well in some cases, and can also be a first-try tactic for removing unwanted raccoons from structures, such as in crawlspaces and attics. Materials that create movement in a breeze, such as streamers, flags, ribbons or old CDs have also been effective in deterring birds such as woodpeckers from destroying wood siding. Electric fences would also be a tactic I'd place under the "hazing category".
I’ve heard of other “creative” ways to rid burrowing animals in unfavorable areas, such as dumping ammonia or mothballs down the den hole. I personally don’t recommend these examples, as they can have unintended consequences for health, safety, and the environment.
Exclusion can also be an effective means of solving wildlife conflict issues long-term. Exclusion is the act of closing off entry points and eliminating travel into sensitive areas by unwanted wildlife. Exclusion is typically performed when wildlife enters homes and structures, but can also be effective for fenced in livestock pens, areas under sheds and porches, and eliminating entry into suburban backyards.
Sealing off gaps and entry points around home structures is used routinely by trappers in the control industry for eliminating squirrel, bat, and raccoon entry. Primary entry points around a home can include chimney flashing, dormer and soffit joints, gaps around fascia and trim boards, and roof vents such as gable attic vents and roof ridge vents. Commercial grade adhesives and hardware cloth screening material are used extensively for this process. Metal screening and fencing is also used for keeping skunks and woodchucks out from under sheds and porches, with a 1-2 foot trench dug in the ground around the base and fencing buried under the surface to deter wildlife from digging under the fence line. This is commonly known as a “rat wall” and is another go-to method in the pest and wildlife control industry.
A device known as an “excluder” or “one way door” is typically installed on the home or structure temporarily, to allow any wildlife sealed inside an opportunity to exit the structure without the ability to re-enter. As a professional I strongly urge anyone unfamiliar with this process to hire a professional wildlife control agent or inquire with your local fish and wildlife department, as breeding seasons and the proper sized devices to use may vary. The last thing you want to do is unintentionally seal wildlife inside, or allow for an adult critter to be separated from young which may not be mature enough to leave via the One Way Exit device. Failure to understand these concepts typically results in either the death and abandonment of young, or wildlife causing more damage to the home trying to regain entry to get to their young.
For livestock such as chickens and others, ensuring a tight properly sealed perimeter can remedy depredation from a myriad of wild carnivores. You'd be surprised how many of my calls for nuisance trapping turn into an exclusion service when I find faulty gaps or penetrations in a homeowner’s chicken pen. While there are plenty of cases where lethal trapping is required to remedy livestock depredation, there is an equal amount of educating the property owner on how to reduce a seemingly simple wildlife conflict situation.
For those who prefer to keep beavers on their property, but worry about sensitive trees being targeted by chewing, 3-4 feet of metal fencing wrapped at the base of the tree can be secured loosely to reduce the likelihood of gnawing. The same can be done with smooth aluminum flashing sheets to keep porcupines off of fruit trees. Proper securing and staking will maximize success, but be sure to periodically inspect trees to ensure the fencing isn't interfering with tree growth.
As crucial habitat is regularly lost to make way for housing and infrastructure, its important to keep in mind that wild animals are feeling the brunt of that loss and will adapt accordingly. While regulated trapping and hunting can help manage swelling populations, there are some aspects of habitat on your property that may be ideal to problem wildlife; unbeknownst to you.
Brush piles and berms should be dealt with to reduce burrowing behavior and harborage. Overgrowth of vegetation should also be kept in mind when dealing with concerns of nuisance wildlife living close to the home or crops.
Food sources, such as overflowing trashcans and dumpsters, or the outdoor feeding of domestic pets such as cats, dogs, chickens or other livestock can also roll out the red carpet for scavengers like skunks, raccoons, coyotes and the like. You hear it all the time in New Hampshire - remove those bird feeders! You may like the sight of wild birds, but when left uncleaned and poorly maintained, you also welcome bears, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, and all sorts of rodents for a nightly buffet. I recall removing 12 skunks from one suburban property some years back; and the client had double that amount in bird-feeders strewn about the yard.
Relocation and translocation of problem wildlife is a hot-button topic among trappers, wildlife managers, and the general public at large. Many states have strict regulations on whether you can or can't transport problem wildlife to another area. Many common "problem" wildlife species such as raccoons, skunks, and woodchucks are all hardcore vectors for diseases such as rabies and distemper. While you may think you are doing "good", by moving possibly infected animals from one location miles away to another, you open the potential for possibly spreading disease to uninfected wildlife populations - even if your problem animal doesn't show signs of illness. Here in the Northeast, we are seeing increases in disease outbreaks among our furbearers, coupled with a decline in regulated trapping activity. I can't help but suspect homeowners relocating infected wildlife has something to do with it.
If you're going to dabble with relocation or translocation, be mindful of where you are dumping your problem critter off - as your problem may now become a problem for someone else. Furthermore, time of year plays a big part in successful survival of trans-located wildlife. The dead of winter is not the time for abandoning a nuisance critter in foreign forest, as it likely ends with a prolonged death at the hands of frozen ground, lack of shelter, and lack of food sources. If your problem animal has taken residence in or around your home - there's a good reason its there.
I recall this past winter I performed a trapping service for a client with skunks living under her house. I ended up catching a young possum as well, and I didn't have a need for the fur or meat (yes, possums are edible). The alternative, as remaining under the home was not an option, was relocation. Being in the trapping world for many years, I knew the survival chances in mid-February with 2 feet of snow in a new habitat was pretty much 0%. That fella spent the winter with a local wildlife rehabilitator who had the room to house the little guy until warmer weather allowed for release. Pretty much every state has licensed wildlife "rehabbers", so inquire with your local fish & wildlife department if a similar situation arises. There's some "old school rehabbers" in my neck of the woods who understand the conservation mindset of a licensed trapper, and readily welcome my visits.
Beaver flow pipes:
Beaver flow pipes, also known as "beaver pipes", "beaver bafflers" or "beaver deceivers", are essentially a pipe system designed to mitigate flooding caused by beavers. The idea is to allow water flow through a beaver dam or culvert while "tricking" the resident beavers into thinking the water has been dammed up. There's several different variations which all range from simple pipes installed just below the water surface, to elaborate designs which include floating or stationary cages and fencing extending several yards into a pond. The benefit of flow pipes is that a landowner can choose to keep the beavers and their habitat present, while also helping to control flooding. Some beaver pipes can get pricey, and do require routine maintenance and care, however they certainly have their place for the right property and the right client.
Education is key:
Education and understanding of basic wildlife behaviors is key to success. I should emphasize that while the ideas listed above can certainly mitigate frivolous killing of wildlife, they shouldn't be pressed as the end all/be all to regulated wildlife management. There have been plenty of scenarios where the above-mentioned content was attempted, and failed to deliver desired results. That said, I think many of the folks who criticize regulated hunting and trapping activities would absolutely fry their minds if they only knew even a fraction of the unmentionable ways our wildlife suffers at the hands of a frustrated, uninformed, unlicensed or uneducated property owners.
As a licensed trapper and conservationist, I find it imperative to advocate for alternatives when necessary, just as much as I advocate for our rights to self reliance through regulated hunting, fishing and trapping activities. I'm sure there's a small minority out there who can't quite wrap their heads around why I'd advocate for hunting of wildlife whilst also promoting non-lethal suggestions to save wildlife, but I think most folks can pick up what I'm puttin' down. Teddy, Aldo, and the other Godfathers of conservation had a similar frame of mind in the past.