GIMME SHELTER- Smell a rat? Banish skunks and other critters

John Ashcraft, Holistic Pest Solutions

Q: How do I keep skunks out of my yard?  Also, what about buzzards, raccoons, possums, and other large pests? Do I need to trap them? Or is there something I can use that will keep them away?

A: In theory, the best way to deter skunks and other nuisance wildlife activity is relatively easy: reduce or eliminate those things around the house that might be  attractive to the animal!

Now, that may sound fairly simple, but it can actually get complicated. Some factors that make our yards and homes inviting to critters may be obvious and easy to address while some may be fairly expensive and time intensive. These factors can include but are not limited to:

• keeping grass cut (tall grass provides shelter for travel routes),

• reducing brush, weeds, and vines from the lawn's perimeter (thick ground cover provides shelter and a sense of security),

•preventing the accumulation of stuff in the yard and around the house such as tools, toys, equipment, firewood, tarps, etc. (provides shelter and possible nesting),

•ensuring that lids are secure on outdoor trash receptacles (food and refuse odors alone can be very attractive)

•making sure crawl space doors are in place and secure (wildlife love to live in the crawl spaces of houses, as they are warm and dry in the winter)

•sealing any holes that may exist in the foundation wall (to prevent access for nesting)

Low profile decks should have lattice in good repair and that either contacts the ground in all places or actually goes a couple of inches into the soil (wildlife often build nests under these low decks). Dirt-filled porches should be in good repair with no openings or holes that might allow access underneath (as a wildlife nesting site). And do not allow pet food to sit out overnight (as this conditions wildlife to come and feed, free and easy).

Even the nature-friendly things we do can be attractive to unwanted visitors: bird feeders and compost piles/containers will be inviting to a number of vertebrate animals (another easy food source).

There are a number of wildlife repellants and deterrents available today, but by all accounts they're only slightly effective, at best. Even if you've incorporated most or all of these measures, you could still end up with these critters as pests.  

If you consider trapping the animal, it is imperative that you check state local laws and regulations. Some animals are protected and cannot be translocated– or they may be sick and should not be translocated. Special precautions should be taken in order to avoid contracting any number of diseases or parasites, such as rabies, canine distemper, parvo, and raccoon roundworm.  

With skunks, of course, there's the danger of being sprayed by the animal, as skunks tend to spray without hesitation when threatened. Ideally, you should secure a professional to trap your problem animal, but be certain he of she has the special licensing required. The professional must have a Virginia Commercial Nuisance Animal Permit. This person should also have received a pre-exposure rabies vaccine series.