[Urban Wildlife Control Issue] Using Lifts for Wildlife Services

Features - Annual Urban Wildlife Issue

What types of lifts are available to PMPs and what are the pros and cons of using them when providing wildlife remediation services.

September 28, 2012

Bottom left: Confirm the distances and pathways that you will follow to gain access to needed areas, as was necessary when this 120 foot articulating lift was used. Bottom right: Scissors lifts can be very useful when gaining access to points on level surfaces as was the case in this bird exclusion netting installation. Top: Establishing a relationship with a subcontractor who has a boom truck, such as a tree trimming or electrical company, can prove beneficial in some situations.

When providing wildlife inspection, removal, and exclusion services at the homes and businesses of clients, gaining access to elevated areas is simply part of the job that occurs every day. On our wildlife service vehicles we carry ladders ranging from 6 foot step ladders to 40 foot extension ladders. When dealing with large commercial buildings, and even some residential situations, there are times when a 40 foot ladder just won’t get you where you need to be, and an alternative form of access is required. In this article we’ll discuss some of the types of common lifts that are available, plus take a look at some of the pros and cons of using lifts as a part of providing wildlife remediation services.

Safety is the Highest Priority. No matter how big the job, or how much money there is to be made, the No. 1 priority when working where elevated access is required should always be safety. If proper preparation, training and adequate equipment selection do not occur, then the potential for a very serious or fatal accident is very possible. If you or your company do not have the expertise or willingness to be properly trained for working at higher elevations, then you may want to seriously consider not working on these types of jobs. It is also possible that you can establish a referral relationship with another company that does work at higher elevations and benefit financially through a referral fee commission.

Initial On-Site Evaluation. In areas where we routinely work, we often have a pretty good idea of the type of structure that we are going to encounter when we receive a call. Typically we find that higher access is most often required when providing services associated with bird and bat exclusion. In order to properly evaluate the type of access that will be needed, a complete on-site inspection is first required. Once it is determined that exterior access to a higher elevation may be required, then further evaluation should take place. This may include using a laser range finder to determine heights, a pair of binoculars or spotting scope for initial ground level site assessment, a measuring wheel, digital camera and graph paper to diagram the site. We also have found that satellite images of larger structures using web sites, such as Google Earth, can be helpful in planning and plotting different types of required access and routes for equipment movement.

One of the first questions that comes to mind in dealing with higher structures should be: “Can we gain the best access coming down from the roof or up from the ground?” When descending from roof areas the use of swing seats, rappelling, and swing scaffold platforms are several options that might be applicable. Working from these devices requires thorough and complete safety and operational training prior to use; we will not cover their use in this article.

Access from the Ground up. Once you determine that access from the ground up is the best route, you should begin identifying exactly where access is required, what heights are involved, and the best potential type of equipment that should be used. In most situations where lifts are required, we try to obtain a single lift type to provide access to all areas, if practical, due to rental expense. Due to varying conditions on some sites it may be necessary to have several different types of lifts available in order to efficiently complete a job. Some of the considerations involved when determining lift selection include: height of access needed, surfaces traveled on and worked from to gain access, potential obstructions (such as trees or power/utility lines), landscaping, slopes and grades, and needs for traffic control.


An articulating boom with jib will allow for extension up and over as well as around the side of some structures, when needed.

Height. There are a variety of available lift types and, generally speaking, if we need exterior access of between 40 and 135 feet we will consider a lift. In the 40 to 60 foot range we will also consider the use of a bucket truck. In some higher situations we also will consider the use of a crane equipped with a “basket.” When we work with lower heights that may require a tremendous amount of ladder movement, or bird netting installation on paved surfaces, we will often consider smaller lifts or scissor lifts.

Route of Access. Traditional JLG and boom-type lifts are extremely heavy and large. When moving these from one point to another, size and weight should always be considered. We once had a property management company that required us to provide a written statement that we would be responsible for damage to any asphalt paving on their property because a previous contractor that had used a large lift had caused damage. Keep in mind that during the summer asphalt can soften and a 40,000 or 60,000 pound lift can potentially cause significant damage to paved surfaces. In situations where we are concerned with lift damage to paved surfaces and turf areas we will have a two-man crew on site with sheets of ¾ inch plyboard that we place beneath the lift tires to help distribute weight. Keep in mind that brick pavers and sidewalks also may be vulnerable to damage due to the weight of some lifts. In addition to weight, the length, width and operational turning radius of any needed equipment should be determined prior to committing to provide services. All of this information should be available from the rental equipment supplier and should be accounted for prior to pricing and committing to provide any services.

Trees. In certain situations access may be limited to a building due to the presence of trees. It may be possible to articulate up and over some trees or go above and lower down into a tree canopy in order to gain access. In some situations it may be necessary to have trees removed or professionally pruned prior to providing service. If you are in doubt about access obtain assistance from the lift rental company staff and any other needed contractors prior to pricing and committing to provide any services.

Power/Utility Lines. In order to avoid serious injury, or even death, it is critically important to be aware of, and have a solid plan in place to avoid, power and utility lines with any lifts. Both power and utility companies typically will work with you in moving lines, disconnecting power, and placing protective covers over active lines that may be close to points where you need access. It is very important to plan needs such as working with power and utility companies well in advance of scheduling any on-site work. It also is important to consider any additional time or expenses that may be incurred that could add to the cost of the service.

Landscaping. When dealing with landscaping it is always best to communicate directly with the client about any areas where there may be damage to plantings or planter beds associated with moving equipment and gaining access to provide contracted wildlife services. You should always keep in mind that areas such as planter beds may have soil that is much softer than surrounding areas. If loosely compacted soil is present, this can provide a risk in operating a lift through these areas. In some cases alternate routes of entry and/or the use of ¾ inch plyboard for added weight dispersal may be considered. When providing a site assessment and planning on lift movement you should always be aware of any septic systems, septic drain fields, and storm sewer grates that may be present. Always keep in mind that with the extreme weight of some of the lifts avoiding “soft areas” is extremely important.

Lift units typically come in several engine forms: electric or gas. They also can be two-wheel or four-wheel drive, and a few types are equipped with tracts. Generally speaking, you must be aware of realistic travel limitations of whatever piece of equipment you plan to use. In writing this I am reminded of a late Friday evening when we had a winch and heavy truck present in an attempt to get a “four-wheel drive” 60 foot JLG lift up what we thought was a gradual sloping hill beside an apartment building. Needless to say, a little extra planning and investigation on “the front end” can often save time when you are in the middle of a job and run into a problem that could have been avoided.


Wildlife technicians gain access to the roof edge to inspect for potential points of bat entry.

Traffic Control. In certain situations traffic control can be a major issue when using elevated equipment such as lifts. This can be especially true when working on bridges or in downtown city areas. If you are questioning what type of traffic control is required you may want to call and consult with your state department of transportation or local law enforcement officials for recommendations and explanation of legal requirements. On several occasions in the past we even hired off-duty law enforcement staff for assistance in traffic control and pedestrian safety.

Types of Lifts. From a layperson’s perspective I like to think of “lifts” as devices that are going to get us up from the ground to the site we need to access for work. Some of the main types of lifts that we use include straight booms, articulating lifts and scissors lifts. Each of these devices has advantages and disadvantages to consider prior to selection. Straight boom lifts essentially have retractable straight extensions that are movable either by electric, gas or propane. They are also equipped with either treadless tires or all-terrain tires with two-wheel or four-wheel drive. This varies depending on the intended lift use (e.g., on the interior with a level concrete surface, or the exterior on uneven terrain). With articulating lifts you have the ability to go up and extend over an obstacle or lower roof line in order to reach a higher point. These lifts will also extend and retract and the lift arms are typically in three sections. In the case of scissor lifts, their name essentially describes the function of the lift. These lifts are essentially a working platform that can be raised and moved over most level surfaces.

Bucket Trucks. It is very common to see utility companies using trucks that are equipped with a “boom” that can be operated wherever the truck is parked. These “boom trucks” often have stabilization “arms” that extend out from the truck with the “boom” is being used. At our company we have established a working relationship with a local electrical firm that has a “boom truck.” They will provide the truck with a driver for a rental rate of $225 per hour. In situations where we need to obtain access to only one or two points that are out of reach by ladder, hiring the electrical service to provide their truck on site serves as an affordable alternative to renting some of the other lifts.

Just last month we had a high roof-peaked church with extremely limited access to several areas that we needed to get to in order to seal and place bat release devices. Initially we thought we might have to bring in a 125 foot straight boom lift and severely prune back two mature ornamental trees. To get another opinion we called in our commercial equipment rental representative to meet us at the church. Upon inspection he recommended that we consider utilizing an 89 foot atrium lift. This particular lift was only 5 feet wide by 24 feet long and equipped with non-marking tracks as opposed to tires. It is also capable of moving down steep angled terrain, and has four independently moving leveling/stabilizing arms that allow it to be operated while situated on uneven terrain. Even though it is a very expensive piece of equipment to rent, the benefits were worth it in this situation.

Last year, we had another church where the steeple was extremely hard to access. From the road we would have been able to gain limited access, but would have needed numerous electrical and utility lines “dropped” with power interruption to a fairly large area while we were working. As an alternative we opted to articulate up and over a rear roof section of the church and extend past the steeple. We rented a 125 foot articulating lift with a “jib.” The “jib” is essentially a 10 or 15 foot extension that the operator’s basket is attached to that will rotate to the right or left from the extend boom.

When access is needed involving more extreme heights, or at a site where there is limited equipment movement available on the ground, the use of cranes should be considered. Many types of cranes can be equipped with a “basket” and serve as an alternative means of access to traditional lifts. Several years ago we were called by a cell tower maintenance crew to deal with a bald-faced hornet’s nest near the top of a cell phone tower. In this case we had a 150 foot crane delivered on site and one of our staff was hoisted up and removed the hornet’s nest. While not something we use every day, establishing a working relationship with a crane rental/operational company may be of benefit.

Pricing Jobs.
When providing wildlife services that require the use of a lift, it is not uncommon to have lift rental be a large portion of the service charge. In some situations we will quote the job plus the “direct cost of lift rental.” We will then provide a separate quote for the equipment rental. I would urge all pest management professionals to be very careful when having lift equipment supplied by the client unless you have the opportunity to see and evaluate this equipment in advance. It is a whole lot better to walk away from a job that you turned down than to be carried away on a stretcher due to an accident that resulted from using an inferior or unsafe piece of equipment.

Articulating lifts allow for access up and over obstructions to points that might otherwise be inaccessible.

If you haven’t used many lifts in the past you should realize that there can be significant time savings; however, in certain situations there can be delays in moving larger lifts, and this can take up more time than you anticipated.

During “the heat of the summer” we often start very early in the mornings when working on ladders and lifts. We have found that it is much better to request a lift be delivered in the late afternoon on the day prior to beginning a job instead of the morning you plan to start. There is nothing like waiting for a lift to be delivered in the morning when you know by mid-afternoon it’s going to be over 95°F outside!

Always keep in mind that establishing an ongoing working relationship with rental equipment vendors can be very beneficial. I would estimate that 20 to 30 percent of our commercial jobs require high access where we meet our rental representatives on site for input and recommendations. In addition, we often are able to negotiate beneficial rental agreements based upon these relationships and our consistency as their customer.

Another very important benefit that our equipment rental vendors provide is equipment operational training. When selecting a rental equipment contractor to work with you should closely evaluate the quality and maintenance of their equipment, their service and the support that you receive from their staff.

In order to effectively and efficiently provide wildlife remediation services at many clients the use of lifts can be beneficial. By “doing your homework” and properly preparing you and your company to work with lifts you often can better meet the service needs of your clients. You should always keep in mind that “if a ladder won’t get you where you need to be then chances are that a lift will!”


The author is president of McNeely Pest Control, Winston Salem, N.C., and a member of the Copesan Technical Committee. He can be contacted at smcneely@gie.net.

Photos: Scott McNeely