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Nuisance Wildlife

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Nuisance Wildlife

You know how to tell the difference between a newcomer and someone who’s lived here a while? Most of the time the newcomer will spot wildlife in their yard and be thrilled; the longer term—perhaps more experienced—resident will likely mutter something about “g-d damned animals” under their breath and run out the door swinging a towel or other large object, yelling an approximation of “get away from my flowers!” in an effort to scare said wildlife away.

We live in an area that’s home to abundant wildlife, and more and more that wildlife has seemed perfectly comfortable roaming the streets of town. Whether it’s the moose who wander through Sandpoint’s residential areas, the elk herd that’s made downtown Clark Fork its new home, or the bears, skunks, raccoons, and other critters who periodically show up in areas other than the woods, living with wildlife can be both exhilarating and dangerous.

Most people are aware that moose, elk, deer, bear and other large animals can be a deadly threat should they feel that your excursion from front door to car is a challenge or a danger—at least, those who aren’t trying to “pet” the pretty animals realize it. But an attack by an animal that might be up to five times your own weight is not your only worry.

Ungulates, in particular, are usually host to vermin—they’re not quite so pretty up close—the most worrisome of which may be ticks, which when brushed off their “ride” tend to lurk within the grass of your yard looking for a new blood meal. And those ticks can themselves be host to other “vermin” that cause disease: in particular, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease, though Idaho and Montana have both reported cases of Tickborne Relapsing Fever, and, though rare, of Tularemia.

Plague is another disease to worry about and no, that didn’t end in the Middle Ages. Carried and spread by fleas, plague is also rare, but there have been cases reported in the Northwest.

And of course, there’s still rabies to consider. Generally fatal 100 percent of the time if untreated, you need to head straight to a medical professional if bitten by a wild animal.

And that’s just the diseases we know about, and an incomplete list, at bes. Yet the truth is, over 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic—that is, these are diseases that normally exist in animals but can be spread to humans.

So...  keep that wildlife out of your yard. And how do you do that?

Our Fish and Game Conservation Officers have preached ‘til they’re blue in the face (and we seem to print information every spring), that you really don’t want to be feeding wildlife. This includes not just intentional feeding (and seriously—don’t do that) but unintentional feeding that comes about by leaving yummy food snacks accessible to wildlife. The unintentional feeding list includes unsecured garbage cans, overflowing bird feeders, and even what we like to call—when wildlife isn’t eating it—landscaping: lawns, gardens, flowers, berry patches and the like.

So how do you manage your property so as to not feed the wildlife? Fences are your best bet, and not just a tiny fence—you can figure you need fences at least nine feet high to keep out many of the area ungulates, something the city of Sandpoint apparently didn’t consider when it set maximum height for fencing in town. Deer, by the way, have been observed to jump barriers that were 15 feet high, but most of the time the deterrence factor of a high fence will take care of your problem. If fences that tall don’t suit your landscape, electric fencing is also an option, though maybe not for city properties where injuries to sidewalk pedestrians have to be considered. If you live in the city and want electric fencing, a nice long talk with your insurance agent is probably in order.

You might consider natural fencing as well—plantings that the animal you’re most concerned about won’t find attractive. Briars and thorns are generally successful, though they may do as good a job keeping you out of your yard as they do the wildlife.

Although fencing is the most effective deterrent to large animals, it’s also expensive. For a property of any size, fencing can set you back thousands of dollars. But there are a few other options to try.

The first is a dog. There are plenty of dogs at the local shelters looking to come guard your house from wildlife in the yard in return for your loving companionship. Please, however, make sure you are a suitable dog owner before bringing one of these animals home. You need the time and resources to properly care for an animal, plus a personality that is happy to allow a dog to become a part of your family.

Be aware that dogs are generally only effective for a short period of time. For most dogs, familiarity breeds contempt, and after a while, they’ll quit barking at the deer, moose, elk, what have you. 

Of course, most of your other options have limited effectiveness as well. These include items that tend to startle an animal: motion sensor lights, motion sensor water sprays, flapping material or moving objects. In this case, it’s the ungulate in which familiarity breeds contempt, and they can quickly learn to ignore such distractions if the goal is tempting enough.

You can protect your landscaping plants with deer netting, but truthfully, when wildlife become a nuisance in your yard, it’s because they’re getting food in the neighborhood. Your best wildlife deterrent in that case is to find out who is intentionally or unintentionally feeding the animals, and ask them to stop.

You could also encourage your local legislators to sponsor a law that would make feeding wildlife a crime; better yet, let’s make it a crime punishable by a fine stiff enough to buy fencing for the entire neighborhood.

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Landon Otis

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