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When Wildlife is Unwelcome

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Moving a Moose. Photo by Becky Haag Moving a Moose. Photo by Becky Haag

Yes, there HAVE been a lot of critters in people's backyards

August was a tough month, with little rain and lots of smoke from fires. For some people, the difficulties were compounded by adding wildlife to the mix. And while August has given way to an Indian summer, those animals are still around.

Yes, we all like that kind of “Twin Peaks” vibe when we see moose wandering through town, but the reality is, wildlife in the neighborhood is not always sunshine and roses.

Cougar and bear, particularly, tend to be the cause of panicked phone calls to local wildlife officials... and well they should be. Small children are precious resources to most of us, but to wild animals they are often seen simply as prey, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

With wildfires ravaging some of our area this summer, along with the drought and high temperatures that have made a mockery out of many wildlife food sources, there has been an increase in the reports of wild animal sightings in more urban areas, particularly bears. So what do you do when there’s a critter in your yard?

The simple answer is to report wildlife whenever they display aggressive behavior. But the definition of aggressive behavior varies with species. 

“With bears, we really look for reports of aggressive behavior,” said Matt Haag, a game warden for Idaho’s Dept. of Fish and Game and my go-to guy for any wildlife questions. “Is the bear acting defensively? That’s when we get scared.”

Defensive behavior in a bear can include bluff charges—a sudden lunge followed by an abrupt stop and, often, open-mouthed huffing sounds—slapping of the ground, or clacking teeth. The message the bear is sending—Go away, now!—is pretty clear. 

If a bear is behaving defensively, or is running around in the midst of a residential area, call Fish and Game right away. A bear that feels threatened is a bear that can be dangerous. If you happened to spot the rump of a bear as it was leaving your property, however, there is less cause for alarm.

If you see a cougar (mountain lion), there is usually far more cause for alarm, because the rule is that a mountain lion will see you, but you will not see it. Aggressive behavior in a mountain lion includes simply hanging around long enough for you to spot it and grow alarmed. If you live in a fairly rural area, and there’s some sort of dead creature nearby, the lion may simply be staying close to its kill. But in all other situations, spotting a cougar in an inhabited area, where people are around, is, as Matt put it, “a whole different ball of wax,” and a reason for an immediate call to Fish & Game.

Cougar in Clark Fork.

Moose are rarely cause for a phone call, as they are common in what passes for our “urban” areas and will generally leave you alone if you leave them alone. An exception might be a bull moose in rut, as shown in the photo with this story. This bull was tearing apart the neighborhood and needed to be removed. Again, it’s aggressive behavior you’re looking for.

If your problem is a raccoon, don’t bother calling Fish and Game, no matter how aggressive they behave. But do take measures to remove them from your property. I had a raccoon kill two of my chickens this month, and what he left was not a pretty sight.

Your best bet is to trap the raccoon and then, haul it off to the woods or, frankly, kill it. Please, if you choose that route, do it humanely. You can call Fish and Game about the best way to do that.

We’ve said it in these pages a million times, probably, but it’s worth saying, one more time, DON’T FEED WILDLIFE.

If you’re buying cracked corn at Wal-mart for the ungulates, you’re part of the problem. But with wildlife on the move, it’s even more important to make sure you are not feeding wildlife unintentionally. Bird feeders, outside cat or dog food (or chicken feed on the ground), unsecured garbage cans... all of these can be food sources for animals that, right now, are actively looking for food. Yes, some area wildlife is hungry and yes, that can be very sad. But that is also a part of that great circle of life and you do no one—not even the animals—a favor by interfering.

In this time of drought, pay particular attention to outside water sources, as they can be an additional reason for wildlife to visit your property. Clean up the deadfall from fruit trees you did not harvest. Keep all of your pet feed, and your garbage, in secured containers. And call to report any aggressive behavior in wildlife on your property.

Do not make a pet of wildlife because, frankly, they are not pets, and they can do massive damage to people and property, particularly if they feel threatened. You do not want the liability, or the load on your conscience, should a wild animal, habituated to an area because of YOUR habits, harm a child.

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Author info

Trish Gannon Trish Gannon Owner and publisher of the River Journal since 2001, Trish works out of Clark Fork on the east end of Bonner County, a place she calls, simply, "the best place in the world to live." Mother of three, grandmother of two and an inveterate volunteer, Trish is usually tired.

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Homepage, Headlines, bear, moose, deer, cougar, wildlife, feeding wildlife, mountain lion, urban

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