Critters With Rude Manners

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One of the perks of living in the country is to co-exist with wildlife. Each evening this past winter, I was blessed to watch deer grazing on the remnants of last fall’s harvest; in the spring, rabbits scampered across the lawn, and each morning I wake up to the chirping of various birds.

I also have other guests who were not invited and have very rude manners. As of this writing there is a family of four groundhogs living in my drainage tile under the road. Big Daddy of the lot stays in the barn and often presents himself when I am working in the yard. He is the biggest one I have ever seen, and we usually end up having a face-off because, despite my shouts and threats, he stands his ground and acts like I am intruding on him!

I have no idea how many raccoons call the maples their home but, judging by the amount of doo-doo I have stepped in on the way to the trash barrel, whole families have moved in. Chipmunks feel the need to dig my flowers out of the pots each day. The only critter that I have a truce with is the resident skunk who comes to check out the table scraps I throw in the field, but only after I am a safe distance away. Thank you very much.

My problems with wildlife are minor compared to what many homeowners are facing, including city dwellers. As there are fewer places that wildlife can call home, they are encroaching upon ours. The big problem is that the eco system has been dramatically changed by human activities such as agriculture taking over more land, oil and gas exploration, and commercial development. As wildlife loses its habitats, the animals search out new places to find food and shelter and raise their young. More and more often that place is right at our back door, literally.

Stan Geht, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University, has spent the last 12 years tracking animal migration to urban areas with the help of radio and GPS collars. He estimates that more than 2,000 coyotes make a comfortable living in the Chicago metropolitan area. Some have even been spotted crossing inner city streets just like people, pausing to look both ways for traffic. Coyotes are found in every state except Hawaii and that’s only because they haven’t found a way to hitch a ride on a ship or plane … yet.

A couple years ago, a fox was found living quite nicely on the 72nd floor of a skyscraper in London, living on construction workers’ discarded food scraps. Some bears around Lake Tahoe, Nevada, are so well-fed on garbage year-round that they refuse to hibernate. We have a problem.

Conservation efforts have kept many species from becoming extinct, but sometimes even the best-laid plans can go awry. There are many more large carnivores than in previous years because of conservation efforts and stricter laws regarding hunting and fishing. The over population of wildlife is also a by-product of the “green” movement. By taking stands against pollution of water and air, we are not only making our world healthier for us but for the animals as well.

Destruction of lawns, gardens and flowers is aggravating, but the real problem lies in the health dangers that wild creatures present. First and foremost, they are wild and that, in itself, poses a threat to human safety. Of equal concern is the risk from disease. When they are confined in congested areas, we are confronted with dealing with their feces and urine, which can play host to a number of diseases. Rabies has also been on the rise since wild animals are the primary transmitters of this disease, many times when a pet is bitten by a rabid animal.

So, what can be done to alleviate this problem? Pest control companies often use legal, but inhumane, methods to eradicate the creatures from your premises. They often die a painful death, which is cruel on our part because, after all, it’s not their fault we are taking their habitats. There are wildlife exclusion experts scattered across the country who will deal with the problem humanely. However, they also sometimes deal with it expensively.

There are some plain common sense things that every homeowner can do to keep from getting in this situation. These include:

  1. Bring in your pets and all pet food at night to discourage critters from seeking a snack.

  2. Keep garbage cans covered and secured.

  3. Don’t send an open invitation to come in; close all garage and shed doors at night.

  4. Elevate your woodpile to prevent nesting.

  5. Install radios and motion sensitive lights to deter wildlife. On the same note, if the area is where it will get sunlight during the day, solar lights come on at dusk and require no cords or electricity.

  6. Place rags soaked in ammonia in areas you want to discourage wildlife. The smell will deter them.

  7. Attach wire mesh around the perimeters of decks and home foundations. Just make sure there are no animals or babies living under your structure before you install.

For me, the big one is, if you are going to build a new home, be mindful of where you are putting your home. It used to be people thought if they built in a swampy area, they were conserving farm land. This is true, but when they start dealing with water in basements and mosquito infestations, they not only have caused a major concern for themselves, but have also taken a natural habitat from animals that like those conditions.

Hopefully, there are some good answers that will provide a happy medium between conservation and the encroachment of wildlife in our lives. In their defense, it’s like the Native Americans and the settlers, the animals were here first.

You have to choose your battles. I have a friend who constantly wages war against ladybugs. Her first order of business each day is to vacuum them up. Kudos to her if she can win. Personally, I’m betting on the ladybugs.

Now onward to the Japanese beetles and tomato worms. I have admitted defeat with the ground moles, shared my trees with raccoons, but, when it comes to the garden, the buck stops here.