Wildlife-watching can be fun and fascinating in natural settings, but when wildlife venture into our gardens, orchards, landscapes and homes, it can cause conflict.
The most common wildlife species that the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension - Yavapai County gets calls on are javelina, gophers, rock squirrels, woodrats (packrats), rabbits, raccoons, deer, and elk. None of these animals are really considered pests when they are in a wildland setting. However, when they become reliant on people for food, water and/or shelter, this means trouble for both humans and wildlife.
Common wildlife attractants are pet food, bird feeders, water features, open crawlspaces, and food crops. Carnivorous wildlife (herons, raptors, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions) are also attracted to pets, fish, and livestock. cottontail garden
The easiest way to minimize wildlife conflict is removing attractants and limiting access.
Before discouraging (or actively managing) any nuisance pest, be it insect, mammal, or bird, you must correctly identify it. A case of mistaken identity can lead to a lot of wasted resources and effort.
Many nuisance wildlife species are nocturnal. Therefore, the identification of these animals must be based on observations of tracks, droppings, trails, burrows, tooth marks, and other characteristic types of damage.
After identification, you should also be aware of the legal status of the species in question. Most mammals and bird species and certain reptiles, amphibians and fishes are protected by state and/or federal laws. However, some common pest species are not protected and can be managed directly if they are causing damage. In Arizona, these species include: woodrats, Norway rats, house mice, ground (rock) squirrels, pocket gophers, rock doves (feral pigeons), starlings, and English sparrows.
Prevention is the most reliable, long-term solution to wildlife conflict. Prevention options are directly related to individual species habitat requirements and behavior. Prevention measures include habitat modification, exclusion, frightening, and repellents. Habitat modification and exclusion are very reliable prevention methods. Something as simple as feeding pets indoors rather than outside or building a sturdy fence often remedies the situation. Frightening and repellents may also be employed, but animals sometimes habituate to these practices. I find exclusion (fencing, covering, hardware cloth, sheet metal, etc.) works best and causes the least disruption to non-target species.
Control measures include trapping (lethal or live), toxicants, fumigants, shooting, and biological control. Depredation permits for state regulated species may be obtained from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD). Lethal control methods are distasteful to many people, including some gardeners. For this reason, live trapping is often used to "save" the offending animal. It can be effective. However, in many cases the animal is released too close to the trapping site and returns. Conversely, wildlife released in habitat currently occupied by the same species will compete for resources and territory in unfamiliar surroundings.
When toxicants and/or other lethal means are employed, be mindful that non-target organisms (dogs, cats, birds, etc.) can be inadvertently affected. For this reason I do not recommend that homeowners use wildlife toxicants and only use lethal traps for mice, woodrats, and gophers.
For many situations, hiring a wildlife damage control professional may be the best solution. Names of licensed, trained professionals can be found in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control."
Visit http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/icwdmhandbook for more wildlife damage control information. It is important to remember that some practices listed in other states may not be legal in Arizona.
If you have garden or landscape questions, consult a Master Gardener volunteer at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension office on the Prescott Rodeo Grounds at 840 Rodeo Dr. #C, 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, or call 928-445-6590 ext. 224.
Jeff Schalau has been the agriculture and natural resources agent with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County, since 1999.