Wildlife management has become one of the fastest growing segments in the pest management industry. High demand from clients and premium pricing make it an attractive market for PMPs. But before rushing in and offering wildlife services, take note of some important considerations:
Obligations Under the Law. Wildlife management, while lucrative, is subject to myriad laws and regulations, which can vary from federal, state and local levels. The most important items to review when “getting your feet wet” in the wildlife management segment are laws that apply to the services you plan to offer. For instance:
- At the federal level, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is something you will need to understand if you plan to manage birds other than pigeons, starlings or sparrows.
- Each state has its own laws and regulations regarding wildlife management. Some states have specific training and licensing, while others have little to no regulation. You must know the requirements and follow them.
- Many larger cities and counties have their own regulations. These can be difficult to find, but you must know and understand them. Being aware of laws helps you stay on the right side of them.
Have a Public Relations and Media Plan in Place. Wildlife management can be an extremely sensitive issue with the public. The general consumer’s perception of wildlife is not the same as it is for typical insect and rodent pests. For this reason, it is essential to develop a strategy and thorough public relations plan before beginning any wildlife work.
Hundreds of rats outside of a restaurant or hotel would be cause for public outcry, and would likely result in major media coverage. How many times have you seen a large gathering of pigeons in these same locations, without a word of complaint? Whether winged or four-legged, the general public may hold a “cute and fuzzy” view of wildlife, unaware or unconcerned with the health hazards these creatures can create. This view of wildlife can create unwanted publicity, even when handled properly under the law. Therefore, always remember:
- A proper plan starts with your frontline service people. They need to know what to say if approached by a member of the public or the media. A single off-color remark to the wrong person can take on a life of its own.
- Train your frontline staff about how to answer simple questions in a professional manner — this may help prevent possible issues.
- Your team should be trained to direct more complex media questions to a company spokesperson.
- Appoint one person to serve as the contact for dealing with the media, complex questions, or activist groups. This is of critical importance. If you have multiple people making statements or answering questions, it could result in inconsistent responses or mixed messages, potentially creating an even larger publicity headache.
- Always be honest in dealing with the public or the media. This is non-negotiable.
- A public relations plan should not be confused with a marketing plan. The purpose is not to grow your business, it is to protect it.
Technical Know-How. Just as you need a firm understanding of entomology to be successful in pest management, you will need a firm understanding of wildlife biology to be successful in wildlife management.
- Hire an experienced wildlife management professional to run your new division. While this may be an expensive option, hiring the right person will pay dividends for years to come.
- You can opt to manage your new wildlife management activities with existing staff as a more cost-efficient option. This option does have a number of risks around execution and focus, so steps must be taken to mitigate these risks: Acquire proper training for your team; understand how species respond to control measures; and promote a sense of urgency around response time, as wildlife management differs from traditional pest management in the public’s sensitivity to these creatures.
Protect Your Employees’ and Clients’ Health. Dealing with wildlife brings a new set of health risks to both your employees and clients – particularly rabies. Rabies is a serious public health issue in many parts of North America, and starting a wildlife management division will put your employees in potential contact with infected animals. Develop a plan to deal with this potential contact. Be able to answer the following questions:
- Where do I send an animal suspected of having rabies?
- Where do I report a suspected case?
- What precautions do I take to protect my staff from rabies?
- Does my staff know the signs and symptoms of rabies? Do they understand how the symptoms of mange and distemper differ from those of rabies?
Humane Treatment. When considering implementing wildlife management services, it is absolutely critical that you and your team put humane treatment of animals at the center of your work. As professionals, we have a responsibility to treat animals humanely and to impact the environment as little as possible.
- Become familiar with the American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines on Euthanasia before conducting any type of procedure. Be able to articulate why euthanasia is the most humane option in most circumstances.
- In trapping situations, you must consider food, water and shade for animals.
Wildlife management is an exciting new channel for our industry and gives us another opportunity to solve potential public health issues for clients. With a little planning and forethought, your wildlife management program can be a successful venture that grows your business and provides new career opportunities for your staff.
The author is vice president of the North American Bird Program with The Steritech Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.