To manage wildlife damage effectively, you must have good information on the species involved. Understanding the biology and habitat of the problem animal allows a person to use methods effectively to control or eliminate the unwanted behavior, conflict, or the animal itself.
A high level of skill and knowledge are needed to control wildlife damage effectively and safely. You will need to know the biology, habitats, signs, and damage caused by various species. Animal-handling and control techniques must be learned, practiced, and mastered. If an animal must be killed or euthanized, it should be done as humanely as possible. Do not hesitate to contact other professional WCOs or state wildlife agencies if the damage situation is complex, or if safety issues exist. If you have concerns about your ability to handle a wildlife problem with appropriate care and diligence, do not hesitate to work with other qualified professionals.
Identify the animal, manage the damage
To manage a pest effectively, you must be able to identify it. You must also understand its life cycle, habitat, and behavior. Identification, however, is often difficult. Many mammals are nocturnal or crepuscular and may rarely be visible during the day. Your only clue may be the damage itself.
The most practical way to identify a problem animal is by examining the damage site. Often the damage from one animal is distinguishable from that of another. For example, deer tear off plant parts while rabbits clip parts off cleanly. Groundhog damage usually occurs close to its burrows. Among predators, killing and eating styles differ by species and may help you identify the culprit. Signs like tooth marks, feces, hair, and tracks are also helpful.
Identifying the damage-causing species takes knowledge, perseverance, and keen observation. The more you know about potential pests and the damage they cause, the more easily you can pinpoint their identity and control their actions.
In the following text, we discuss some of the mammal species that most frequently cause human-wildlife conflicts. This includes a description of each species, the damage it causes, its habitat, behavior, and life cycle and damage prevention and control methods.
Situations involving protected wildlife may require additional permits
Whether the conflict with wildlife is simple or complex, your response should follow the highest ethical standards. Federal, state, and local laws and regulations must be obeyed. Some species are protected by federal law, such as Canada geese, gulls, hawks, robins, and woodpeckers. States protect game and furbearer species, such as white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits, wild turkeys, raccoons, and foxes. In addition, species that are endangered and threatened are protected by both federal and state laws. Many states require professional certification for animal removal and transport, and the use of regulated toxicants. Some require a permit for trapping and removal of certain wildlife species, especially game animals and protected species.
As a WCO, chances are you can’t just pack your truck and hit the road when a customer calls with a complaint about one of these species because they either are managed by a state agency or are federally protected. You may need to secure permits—perhaps at both the federal and state levels—before using certain control techniques. The focus of this section is on those species that routinely cause conflicts with people in the US.
Federally protected wildlife
Endangered species (on the national list), threatened species (national list), and migratory birds are all federally protected wildlife.
In most states, WCOs cannot, under any circumstances, handle an endangered or threatened species. No way, no how.
You must take special care to make sure that activities intended to control other species do not accidentally harm an endangered or threatened species. Here’s what to do. First, review the lists of endangered and threatened species to see if any are found where you work. Go to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Online Bulletin (http://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/index.html) and click on your state to see the most up-to-date list. Learn how to identify those species. Then take special precautions, especially if applying pesticides or setting traps.
Migratory birds that most commonly cause conflicts with people include the American crow, Canada geese, gulls, double-crested cormorants, and woodpeckers. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects these birds, their feathers, nests, and eggs. You may not take, possess, or transport a migratory bird without permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (50 CFR Depredation Permit).
Bird control methods that require state and federal permits include:
- any attempt to capture, relocate, injure, or kill migratory birds (except for those waterfowl species which may be taken during the hunting season by those with a state hunting license, a federal waterfowl hunting stamp, and HIP registration).
- any attempt to destroy eggs of migratory birds.
- any attempt to destroy nests of migratory birds that currently have eggs or young within them.
On April 15, 2003, the US Fish and Wildlife Service changed its policy regarding the nests of migratory birds to allow for the destruction of nests that lack eggs or young—as long as those nests are not protected by other laws, such as bald eagles, golden eagles, and other endangered and threatened birds.
Although this policy change now makes it possible (in some cases) to destroy an unoccupied nest, make sure you do not violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by accidentally taking eggs or birds. For example, it can be difficult to tell if eggs are in the nest of a ground-nesting or cavity-nesting species, such as a bank swallow.
Legal methods that do not require state or federal depredation permits include harassment, exclusion, habitat modification, and the use of repellents, unless you’re dealing with a bird that currently is nesting or has dependent young, for which you would need a permit. If you have any questions, contact your state wildlife agency. Their staff can offer advice about management strategies and information about necessary permits.
Managing Problem Mammals
Mammals that cause human-wildlife conflicts can be managed in a number of ways. Many methods are specific to certain pests in particular situations. Usually, a combination of these methods achieves the best control. Review the sections on Wildlife Control Methods and Animal Handling.
Managing Problem Birds
As with mammals, there are many ways to manage pest birds. The goal is to choose the safest, least harmful option that gives effective control. To do this, you must have a solid understanding of the life cycles and habits of the nuisance birds. You must also know which control methods are effective and available to control specific pest birds.
Some techniques used to manage birds are similar to those used for mammals. However, birds have some unusual features. For example, few birds can smell. Olfactory repellents, therefore, do not work on birds. A good understanding of workable techniques will help you choose a successful control strategy.
Develop a Management Plan for Birds
First, study the birds in the problem area. Observe both pest birds and non-target birds. Study them early in the morning, at midday, and again in the evening. This will tell you how many birds and what species are present. It is important to note what the birds are doing. Are they nesting, feeding, roosting, or loafing? Are they adults or juveniles? Are they resident birds, or are they migrating? Where do they eat and drink? What is attracting them to the area?
Next, make some decisions. Answers to the following questions will help you develop a responsible and effective control plan.
Are the birds a nuisance? Are they causing physical damage? Do they pose a health risk? Is exclusion or habitat modification possible? Are these actions practical? Are there effective repellents for the target pest and site? If the birds disperse, where will they go? If the birds have eaten a toxic bait, where will they die? Will non-target species be at risk if avicides are used? What are the legal and public relations considerations?
As you draw up your plan, remember that all migratory birds are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. You may not take these birds or their nests without a permit. In some cases, only officials working with a federal wildlife management agency qualify for such a permit. Be especially cautious when destroying the eggs of pest birds. If you destroy the eggs of protected birds by mistake, you may be liable for prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service issues migratory bird depredation permits.
In New York, any use of pesticides (toxicants or repellents) by NWCOs requires the NWCO to have a pesticide applicator license. This applies to the use of commercial pesticides as well as common household items such as moth balls and ammonia. If you are a NWCO using any product, commercial or homemade, to kill or repel an animal, you must have a pesticide applicator license.
When using a pesticide, review the module on the use of chemical control and follow directions on the product label. Chemical registrations and use patterns change. Specific pesticides mentioned in this manual may no longer be registered for use. Pesticide products currently registered for use in NYS are listed at the New York State Pesticide Administrator Database (NYSPAD) web site http://www.dec.ny.gov/nyspad/?0 Before using any product, you must check the database to see if the product is registered for use in NY and if the label states you can use the product for the target species. If a specific product is listed on that database, then it is currently registered for use in NY. If the label states the product is registered for use on deer and rabbits, you can only use it on deer and rabbits. You cannot use that product on squirrels or chipmunks.
If, after checking the NYSPAD site, you still have concerns or questions about the registration status of a pesticide product, contact the NYSDEC Pesticide Product Registration Section at (518)-402-8768.