A Natural View: Wildlife - Not Welcome in Our Town!

Terry Sprague

Grey Squirrel (black morph). (Photo by Dave Bell)
[This article appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of the SCOOP.]

There is a village near where I live that boasts a large mill pond. Now, one would think that would be a bonus, especially to anyone wishing to locate along its banks. However, the presence of this large pond resulted in some amusing phone calls to my office when I used to work for the conservation authority. On one memorable day, I could almost feel the spittle through the earpiece on my phone when one new resident wanted our agency to do something – today – about those bullfrogs that kept him awake all night at his new home. Another one wanted me to pick up “my” geese that were defecating on his lawn, refusing to accept my suggestion that it was his lawn being mowed to the water’s edge that was providing a grassed runway for them. Unconvinced, he steadfastly maintained that if the geese were picked up and released somewhere else, this would be the end of his problem.

In more recent years, a resident of a subdivision in Belleville wrote a letter to the editor demanding that the city do something about the unwelcome wildlife that was getting into his garbage overnight. I was unfamiliar with this residential area, but it sounded like an upscale area where no one had a clothesline and everyone on the same day of the week mowed their lawn diagonally. As a rural resident, I am happy that I don’t have those stresses. Evidently, this was also an area where the presence of wildlife was viewed with contempt and a few residents were convinced that their unwanted presence was not their problem, but the responsibility of the municipality. This resident openly admitted that he live trapped a “nuisance animal” every night and released it north of the city in someone else’s backyard. The thought, however, of storing his garbage responsibly overnight had not crossed his mind, so skunks and raccoons continued their dubious journeys to new territory.

As I explain in my backyard naturalization courses to those who want to encourage backyard wildlife, the presence and abundance of wildlife can be decided by following their four basic needs – food, water, space, and shelter. Provide one or more of these, and they will come. Work within the system and one can either prevent wildlife by not offering those necessities, or encourage them by providing a variety of wildlife shrubs and other attractants. You do not prevent skunks, raccoons, groundhogs and foxes from entering your property by leaving garbage out overnight, and then expecting city hall officials and mysterious agencies to drop what they’re doing and take care of what is essentially a “homeowner’s problem.” Again, it is a classic example of responsibility, or lack thereof, a term that is becoming less fashionable with each passing year. The concept of wildlife management is one I learned back in Grade 5 in a one-room school from a teacher who was way ahead of her time. And it is the same principle upon which sound wildlife management is still based today.

If you think this concept of wildlife management is nonsense, think back to the two or three squirrels you may have had at your bird feeder one winter, and how you decided to live trap them, release them in another area, and how at the end of the winter, you had live trapped 55 squirrels, and were still going strong. Live trapping rarely works, as Nature refuses to let it work. Wildlife is constantly on the move, inhabiting new territory as it becomes available. Live trapping does nothing more than accelerate the process, as in Nature, there is to be no void, if food and water, space and shelter, are all available. Wildlife species never exceed the carrying capacity of any given area. The more food there is, and the more readily accessible it is, the more there will be. Yet, some homeowners continue to live trap, falsely believing that this is the end to their problems. Meanwhile, residents elsewhere are bombarded by a growing number of groundhogs, raccoons, skunks, and foxes, all thoughtfully being delivered by urbanites who feel that wildlife does not fit into their style of living.

Live trapping is not the humane answer that many purport it to be. In addition to the animals leaving behind scores of starving and unattended young, these animals are being unceremoniously dumped in an area already claimed by others of their species, and the outcome is not pretty.

The answer is responsibility, and seeking information from those knowledgeable on the subject on how to work within the system and dissuade those species that may be unwanted. And contrary to the soothsayers, any wild animals present are not predestined to introduce debilitating diseases, nor are they purposely seeking out children to bite and carry off; they are more than happy to stay out of our way, if not harassed.

Furthermore, if I never get another call from a resident droning on about the Canada geese problem, it will be too soon. Yet, we see these same people blithely mowing their grass to the water’s edge and intentionally providing a grassed runway for them. Naturalize the shoreline with a buffer of select shrubs and ground covers, and the problem goes away. The problem will not go away by phoning every agency in the book and brusquely demanding that someone come and remove “your” geese.

It’s all about taking some time, and doing a little research about any animal which a resident may be experiencing problems with, and does not want on their property. Learn what makes them tick, their likes and dislikes, and work within their system to achieve results. Our system is not what it is cracked up to be. Our failures have become legendary. A simple Internet Google search will bring up numerous suggestions that have worked for others, and it doesn’t involve live trapping. It involves homeowner responsibility and a bit of common sense.

Subtly suggesting that the animal be trapped and taken downtown to be released near City Hall, is not a responsible solution.

Terry Sprague lives in Prince Edward County and is a retired interpretive naturalist and hike leader. See his website at www.naturestuff.net. He can be reached at tsprague@xplornet.com.