Home & Garden

Solving wildlife damage problems in a yard or garden can be complicated

Have you ever walked in your yard and felt like you were walking on a sponge? Are there tunnels around the apple tree you planted last summer and are the leaves turning brown? After about 12 inches of snow, do the pussy willows at the back of your garden look like they have been cut with a sharp pair of pruners? If this describes your yard or plants, you may have wildlife damage.

Wildlife damage can happen anywhere, whether you live in a metropolitan, urban, suburban or country setting. And because wildlife is owned by everyone and managed by state or federal agencies, there are rules and regulations on what you can do to solve your problems. Even local governments have regulations that relate to wildlife in their jurisdiction.

The further removed we are from our rural backgrounds, the more difficult it seems to handle these wildlife concerns. For example, if you have a hungry groundhog living under your deck, what do you do? You want to live trap it and move this critter that is harvesting your garden away as quickly as you can. You need a live trap, which you can purchase at local hardware stores. Then you need to decide what bait to use — and there are many options. If you don’t close the trap at night, a black and white possibly smelly animal may be in the trap in the morning. This will create a new set of concerns. And if you do catch your whistle pig, where do you release it? Community, neighborhood and personal safety come into play more directly when you live where most of us do today. The laws, regulations, rules and agencies can make decisions about wildlife damage problems sometimes complex and difficult.

According to some interpretations of game commission regulations, both the woodchuck and skunk are rabies vector species and are not supposed to be released on game lands or anywhere else. Furthermore, you may be required to dispatch the animal, but you may not have the means or the desire.

You can find a wealth of information about how to deal with wildlife problems. The internet has information: some good, some not so good and some that is at odds with laws and regulations. Every state wildlife agency has a section that works with citizens to answer their concerns. However, if you are not an agricultural producer, you may not get a person to visit your property after you call. There are many requests for help. Most of the time the agency will explain your options, send a pamphlet or direct you to other agencies like the Extension Service. They may give you a list of private commercial wildlife damage practitioners if you are not interested in handling the problem yourself. Sometimes it is easier to have someone take care of your problem rather than to deal with the frustrations of not being successful or misunderstanding the regulations.

OLLI at Penn State is a membership organization, open to adults who love to learn, offering more than 140 courses this semester. Gary San Julian will offer a session, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Wildlife Visitors in Your Yard.” For more information, call OLLI at Penn State at 867-4278 or visit olli.psu.edu.

Gary San Julian served as an Extension wildlife specialist for 26 years. He chaired the Wildlife Society’s Wildlife Damage Management Working Group.