[Urban Wildlife Issue] Born to be Wild

Features - Annual Urban Wildlife Issue

Practical advice for entering the urban wildlife market from someone with first-hand experience expanding this segment of his business.

September 23, 2011
Scott McNeely

As more homes are built in wooded areas and surrounding semi-rural communities merge with cities to become suburbs, people are increasingly coming into conflict with wildlife. Animals that previously were "in the country" are now regular backyard visitors and residents. Urban wildlife management is currently one of the fastest growing segments of the pest management industry.

Services to control wildlife, however, require special training and experience and are not for every pest control company. A thorough knowledge of vertebrate behavior and biology is needed as well as an understanding of control alternatives specific to individual species. Having the proper equipment and tools to address remediation needs are also essential in order to be prepared to successfully solve vertebrate pest concerns. In addition, a thorough knowledge of regulations pertaining to wildlife is needed, as many of these animals may be protected under local, state and federal statutes. State and/or federal permits are often needed to trap, exclude or relocate many of the animals discussed in this article.

Structural pest management professionals are frequently called upon to resolve pest or nuisance problems involving a wide range of vertebrates. Vertebrate pests and nuisance wildlife can be defined as any vertebrates, native or introduced, domestic or feral, that adversely affect human health or well-being, or conflict in some significant way with human activity or interests. A particular species may be a pest in one situation but in other circumstances considered desirable or beneficial. Hence, the categorization of certain vertebrates as pests is done primarily to define a situation or as a reference from which to resolve a particular biological or ecological problem. Social, cultural and political factors often play significant roles in the strategy and methodology of resolving some pest management problems associated with these animals.

Numerous laws and regulations govern how, when, where or why you can manage or control vertebrate species. They may occur in many different codes or bodies of law and reflect federal, state, county or city authority. Some are restrictive and deny control options; others are mandatory and compel actions that will resolve the pest problem. An example of the latter is the Food and Drug Administration's enforcement of laws and regulations concerning bird contamination of food. Laws and regulations governing pesticide registrations and their use are extensive and sometimes complex, and pesticide regulations change constantly and special effort is required to remain abreast of the current statutes. One may find that local ordinances and even state regulations pertaining to wildlife may be based on political decisions rather than science and biological data. Close attention must be paid to all such laws and regulations and the directions for use and other pesticide label information strictly followed.

Some people tolerate, protect, admire, love and worship animals (even those that are significant pests) and are often caught up emotionally in the welfare of animals. This is especially true if the pest animal is not a direct problem to them. Attempts to resolve a vertebrate pest problem or prevent its damage may actually become more of a "people" problem than a pest control problem. Recognizing this fact, appropriate consideration must be given to the attitudes of clients, as well as others, and thus client and public relations become an integral part of addressing vertebrate pest concerns for pest management professionals.

Where feasible, most pest problems are best resolved through prevention, animal-proofing of buildings, or the use of other exclusion methods. These factors are paramount for preventing damage from pests, such as tree squirrels, bats and pigeons. Sanitation and methods for modifying or manipulating habitats to reduce food and/or water availability or harborage of the unwanted species are of significant importance and represent a major component of integrated pest management (IPM). Even before this management term was adopted, IPM approaches played a vital role in vertebrate pest management and control because total dependence on chemical control or other single-method strategies has never been possible with many pest animal problems.

Concurrent and multiple techniques and methodologies are commonly used in preventive and animal suppression management strategies of vertebrate pests in a wide array of settings. Some of the most common vertebrate pests found in or around buildings and other structures are addressed in the Mallis Handbook, in the chapter devoted to vertebrate pests. Biological information pertinent to PMPs in dealing with common nuisance wildlife is also included.

Wildlife Control Options. The methods discussed here are current recommendations for controlling nuisance wildlife taken from various resources and professional experience. Although these control measures have been found useful for reducing nuisance wildlife populations in particular situations, no claim is made or inferred here pertaining to the efficacy and practicality of these methods in every circumstance. Furthermore, the legality of these methods varies from state to state and, in some cases, from one municipality to the next. It is incumbent on the pest management professional to research federal and state endangered species protection laws, state and local wildlife management regulations and restrictions, as well as state licensing requirements, and adhere to the instructions and restrictions on product labeling before attempting to utilize any control methods.

The pest management professional should be aware that common nuisance mammals naturally compete with each other for available harborage and resources within their home ranges. Furthermore, a variable portion of each population may carry diseases, depending on the geographical area. Therefore, it is inadvisable to relocate and release live-trapped mammals elsewhere unless mandated by laws or regulations. Releasing trapped animals may contribute to the spread of diseases harmful to humans, as well as to other wildlife. Attempts at relocation often result in a high mortality in the transplant species outside of their native home range; hence, sacrificing a few animals may, in the long term, be the most humane and environmentally sound solution.

Wild animals should never be handled alive or dead with bare hands. Rubber gloves, tongs or an inverted plastic bag should be used to remove dead animals from traps. Thick leather or Kevlar-lined gloves should be worn to handle live animals. Personnel engaged in wildlife management (e.g., trapping and handling raccoons, skunks, bats, coyotes, foxes, feral dogs and feral cats) should receive pre-exposure immunization against rabies. This will provide a degree of protection, although post-exposure rabies treatment will likely be recommended if the pest control professional is bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. In addition, a current status of tetanus booster shots should be maintained. A full-face, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter respirator, rubber gloves and other protective clothing should be worn when working in bat roosts.

The pest management professional who includes nuisance wildlife in his or her spectrum of services should be well equipped to handle a variety of situations on the job. The service vehicle should be fitted with a securable cap and lockable toolboxes. Essential equipment needed for professional trapping and exclusion is listed in the Mallis Handbook's "Vertebrate Pests" chapter.

The professional should be trained, apprenticed and skilled in the safe use of all the equipment and methods used in addressing specific types of wildlife remediation service needs. In recent years, the availability of training opportunities through workshops, nuisance wildlife associations, the Internet, text and instructional DVDs has greatly increased the opportunity for pest professionals to obtain needed training. Pest management firms should consider limiting the scope of wildlife-related services that they offer based upon their individual level of expertise dealing with specific vertebrate pest species. All field personnel should hold the appropriate licenses and permits to legally capture, transport, and release or euthanize nuisance wildlife. Wildlife service technicians should be comfortable working from tall ladders and negotiating steeply pitched roofs (i.e., 45 degrees or more) while wearing a harness and tool belt and carrying a trap that may contain a hefty animal. Wildlife service technicians should also be properly prepared to negotiate their way through unfloored attic spaces and a wide variety of basement and crawlspace settings. It is often necessary to implement trapping programs and wildlife damage repair in both the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

Addressing wildlife control service needs can result in public controversy with some segments of the public. The pest management professional should always consider discretion in trap placement and display of captured wildlife. All live trap sets should be checked at a minimum of once daily and captured animals handled and transported as humanely as possible.


Scott McNeely is owner and president of McNeely Pest Control, Winston-Salem, N.C., and a contributing editor of the 10th Edition of the Handbook of Pest Control, from which this article was excerpted. To order, visit www.mallishandbook.com.