Down East 2013 ©
Have you shared a significant portion of your vegetable garden with a fat and sassy woodchuck? Did you look out the kitchen window one morning recently and think a howitzer had hit the lawn? Has your attic been invaded by red squirrels and your basement by field mice?
Is a very fat raccoon knocking down your bird feeders and feasting on those expensive sunflower seeds?
Welcome to the Wild Kingdom, Maine style, or more accurately, my Mount Vernon home.
Wild critters can be pesky and now’s the time they are at their worst, fattening up or digging in for the winter. Let me tell you how to deal with these nuisances.
First, let’s cover what not to do. Unless you are a farmer with substantial crop damage, do not call the Maine Warden Service. They don’t have time for this and unless you buy a license, permit, or registration from their department, you are not contributing a dime to their budget.
It is unlikely these days that a warden has the time (they are limited to forty hours per week) or the miles (they are limited to 200 miles per week) to deal with a wild critter that’s bothering a homeowner.
Second, do not capture the offending creature in a live trap and drive it to a rural area to release it. Those of us who live in the rural areas have a sufficient supply of these critters. We don’t need or want yours! And that includes unwanted cats that show up in our neighborhood regularly after some unthinking suburbanites decide they don’t want their cats anymore.
If you are a farmer, you probably already know that you can kill nuisance animals. Specifically, the law says, “a person may lawfully kill, or cause to be killed, any wild animal or wild turkey, night or day, found in the act of attacking, worrying or wounding that person’s domestic animals or domestic birds or destroying that person’s property.”
If the damage is done to crops, another section of law kicks in: “The cultivator, owner, mortgagee or keeper of any orchard or growing crop, except all types of grasses, clover and grain fields, may take or kill wild animals or wild turkeys night or day when the wild animals or wild turkeys are located within the orchard or crop where substantial damage caused by the wild animal or wild turkey to the orchard or crop is occurring. For the purposes of this section, corn is not considered grain.”
Any animals dispatched under these statutes must be reported to a game warden.
I once shot a skunk that was chowing down in our sweet corn. I snuck out the back door about 9 p.m. with a flashlight on top of a shotgun. Worked quite well, actually. Eventually, unable to keep up with skunks and coons, we gave up growing corn.
If you are personally unable to apply the lead solution to the wild critters that are troubling you (in the circumstances listed in the laws above), you may employ someone outside of your immediate family to kill them with the approval of a game warden. The warden has the options of arranging for an agent of the department to take care of the problem, or authorizing someone “who is knowledgeable and can perform the work in a reasonable, safe and proficient manner.” That could include your neighbors who hunt.
When wild animals are killed under these nuisance statutes, on your behalf, the animals must be dressed immediately and the meat distributed to recipients authorized under the state’s Hunters for the Hungry Program. You may keep for yourself two bear, moose, or turkeys, and three deer.
Here’s an important point, particularly if you are a homeowner who decides to fill the freezer with these critters: You can only kill them when they are in the act of chowing down on your plants, flowers, or vegetables, or damaging your property or attacking your animals.
If, as happened to my neighbor once, you hear a commotion in the basement and go down to find your precious cat backed into a corner by a huge black male fisher, you may fire away.
Ok, these are the statutes that are applied to farmers, but what about individual homeowners? Do these same laws apply to you? Of course, but as long as you use common sense, you’ll be all right in whatever method you choose to eliminate a nuisance animal.
Some of the Animal Damage Control agents licensed by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife have built successful businesses responding to homeowners with nuisance wildlife. Check with the department for a list of agents, or Google “Maine animal damage control agents.” Your town office may have a list of local agents too. Or you can check with the town’s animal control officer, who may be a licensed ADC agent.
The traditional lead solution is still applied statewide by many Mainers, albeit mostly in rural areas.
The red squirrels that get near or into my Mount Vernon home are shot with a .22-caliber rifle. Same solution for nuisance skunk and woodchucks. Two ferocious cats are employed in the nonstop battle against mice. Wish I could stop them from killing birds, though.
I am in hot pursuit right now of the skunks that are digging up our lawn looking for grubs, red squirrels, and mice that want to spend the winter inside with us, and a too-friendly woodchuck that was prancing up our front walkway when I drove in yesterday afternoon.
We tend to live with the raccoons. Last year one incredibly fat coon favored the bird feeder right in front of our kitchen window. The feeder sat atop a long black metal pole, but the coon could reach the feeder by standing on the stake that anchored the pole in Linda’s flower garden.
We came up with a clever solution to this problem. I pounded the stake all the way into the ground, and Linda applied PAM to the pole.
That night, that fat coon shimmied up the greased pole, then slid right back down again. Up and down, up and down, up and down he went. We sat watching by the window, laughing until tears ran down our faces. At one point, he looked right up at us, a frustrated expression on his face.
This is what passes for entertainment in Mount Vernon.
More than half of our splendid raspberry bushes were destroyed one year by a moose. Alas, I didn’t catch him in the act, so I couldn’t fill the freezer with moose steaks.
If you don’t have a gun, or the killing instinct, find a neighbor who hunts and ask for help. Just don’t go overboard. Share the bounty with the critters that populate your neighborhood, lower your standards for a perfect lawn or flower garden, and only apply the lead solution when an animal gets too darn friendly or damaging.
If you are living in their world, share it!