Wild animals plague Mainers and Game Wardens

wildlifeskunkWhile Mainers love wildlife, those critters cause lots of problems for all of us. Maine game wardens handle 6,000 calls for help with nuisance wildlife each year, an astonishing 1/3 of all the calls they get. A 2013 report on public attitudes toward nuisance wildlife found that Maine led the 13 Northeastern states in nuisance wildlife problems. Thirty five percent of Mainers who were surveyed reported that’d had problems with wildlife in the past year.

I’ve had plenty of problems myself over the years. My book, A Life Lived Outdoors, published by Islandport Press last year, related the some of the battles I’ve fought with wildlife inside my home. I’ll give you that story at the end of this report. We’ve had snakes, raccoons, skunks, bats, and more, all inside our house. And of course, I’ve had lots of battles with wild critters outside the house from woodchucks to red squirrels.

I’m working on an outdoor news column about what problem animals we can kill without a hunting license, and you are going to be very surprised by that column.

Nuisance Animal Research Report

A 2013 survey of public attitudes toward and expectation regarding management of nuisance wildlife issues in the Northeast United States was prepared by Responsive Management, an internationally recognized public opinion and research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. The scientific survey was conducted for the Northeast Wildlife Damage Management Research and Outreach Cooperative.

The report is fascinating. “The ultimate goal of this project,” noted the report, “is to help state fish and wildlife agencies develop sustainable nuisance wildlife management strategies and viable solutions – in short, to help ensure that agencies are allocating their limited resources and funding based on the priorities and programs that best meet the needs of their constituents.”

The survey found that “just more than a quarter of Northeast residents (27%) experienced problems with wildlife in the year prior to the survey, ranging from 18% in Delaware to 35% in Maine.” In Maine, 16 percent reported problems with deer, 15 percent with raccoons, 17 percent with squirrels, 14 percent with woodchucks, 6 percent with bears, 9 percent with coyotes, and – drum roll here – 29 percent with skunks. Yes, we have a stinky problem.

Of most concern to survey respondents was Lyme disease (a mean rating of 5.78), health and welfare of wild animals (5.68), responsibility for managing or removing wildlife (4.88), methods used for managing or removing wildlife (4.60), rabies (4.56), and pet safety (4.51).

Nuisance wildlife are costing us a staggering amount of money: $880 million/year in the northeast. Car/critter collisions are the most expensive problems, averaging $1,412 in Maine.

Who Pays

Among the most interesting parts of the report is the section, “Paying for Problems with Wildlife.” The report notes, “In addition to the costs of wildlife damages, there is an often overlooked burden and cost associated with the removal and/or relocation of the problem wildlife… Ultimately, whose responsibility is it to pay the costs of removal and/or relocation?”

While many think property owners should pay some of the costs, many needed more information “on agency funding limitations and preventive measures…. Although experiencing problems with nuisance wildlife can sometimes lead to increased negative attitudes toward the state agency, this negativity can often be counteracted with information and education.” One key problem identified in the report is that most of the state wildlife agencies do not receive public funding for nuisance animal problems or anything else.

I found the survey responses about how people think we should deal with these problem animals to be quite interesting. 52% supported killing the critters, including 21% who strongly supported this remedy. 34% did not. And in Maine, 56% supported lethal remedies, 32% strongly.


The report lists some interesting implications from the research. “While interest is high,” I learned, “knowledge levels regarding the state’s fish and wildlife agency is only moderate, suggesting that residents may not know where to look for information or assistance.

“The agency is one of the most common entities that residents think is responsible and should be responsible for addressing problems that wildlife cause. This may provide some amount of public support for securing funding to address these problems, since so many residents think the state agency should address these problems.

“The above perception is coupled with the perception that general taxes are used to address problems with wildlife – this is the most commonly named source of funds for addressing these wildlife problems, despite the fact that general taxes may not be the primary source of funding used to address problems with wildlife. This misperception should be addressed.” This is especially relevant and important to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife which gets no public funding.

“Ultimately, it is property owners who will and should be most responsible for addressing problems with wildlife, noted the report. “It is important for property owners to understand that they should take responsibility, but, that in doing so, they can use technical information provided by the state agencies.

“Prevention is key. Encouraging more proactive efforts by property owners before wildlife cause problems is important.” Prevention included things like using animal-proof garbage containers, fencing gardens, removing birdfeeders, and allowing hunting on the property.

One final implication was of special interest to me. “Hunting is an interesting option,” noted the report. “Results were mixed on its acceptance as an option for addressing problems with wildlife. It may be useful for agencies to make hunting more acceptable, such as by emphasizing that hunting is regulated and controlled.”

Finally, I read this conclusion: “The issue of obtaining funding is tied to the relevance of the agency to the general population. All too often, state wildlife agencies are seen as solely hunting and fishing agencies. Problems with wildlife present an opportunity for agencies to become more relevant to the general population.”

Yes, the stinky skunks may be our salvation!

Battling Wildlife in the Home

(From A Life Lived Outdoors, published in 2014 by Islandport Press).

Running a bit late for a Selectmen’s meeting one evening years ago, I dashed down the stairs into my workshop without turning on the light. Approaching the door to the garage, I felt our cat move across my feet in front of me and reached down to pet him. Bad mistake.

The skunk blasted me right in the face, and I staggered and started running back upstairs, shedding my stinking clothing along the way before jumping into the shower. Linda later collected the clothing and threw it away.

Eventually I got to the Selectmen’s meeting. No one sat near me.

Last week I wrote about Jim Sterba’s book, Nature Wars, that offers a fascinating look at out-of-control populations of wildlife, explains why this has happened, and relates many backyard battles with a variety of critters from deer to beaver. Sterba neglected one crucial aspect of this problem, when the battles move into the home.

And I’m not just talking about mice, although we’ve done battle with plenty of them. One winter I caught 38, an even dozen of them trapped in a kitchen drawer. And this doesn’t count the mice our cat killed. Often we wake in the middle of the night to a commotion in the dining room outside our bedroom door, as the cat and his quarry careen around the room. Sometimes I have to get up and stomp the mouse to death. My stomping record is eight, in a two-week period.

Bats are a particular challenge. In the early years, I’d try to kill them with a fireplace poker. For years there was a hole in our kitchen ceiling where I once missed a bat with the poker. Since getting educated to the benefits bats bring to the neighborhood, and worried about their diminishing populations, I now catch them in a long-handled fishing net, gently releasing them outside.

Then there is the snake episode. Linda hates snakes. One day as she was washing the kitchen floor, she moved a wicker basket that I’d left outside for some time the day before, and a large snake slithered out of the bottom of the basket.

She grabbed the fireplace shovel and jumped up on a kitchen chair, gradually bludgeoning the harmless thing to death. At one point in this fierce battle, she called me. All I could do was encourage her to keep at it. She was still shook up when I got home. She still shudders when I bring up the incident.

Every wild critter that can get into the house, does so. Red squirrels are particularly nettlesome. I watch for them at the bird feeder, and if they turn toward the house after dining, I shoot them. If they head for the woods, they get a reprieve. A chipmunk currently resides in my workshop and the garage, darting into a tunnel under the cement floor when he sees me.

One sunny Saturday morning, I opened the bulkhead door to air out the cellar. A bit later, heading out of the cellar up the bulkhead’s steps, I met a huge raccoon coming down the steps. We had a stare down, and he eventually reversed course. I’m not sure what would have happened if he’d continued down the steps. He was certainly too big to stomp to death.

And then there is the night I woke to a terrible ruckus directly below my pillow, under the floor. Turned out to be mating raccoons.

One morning Lin was getting ready for school and there was a live chickadee on her computer, apparently brought into the house by the cat. Another time, the cat brought in a sparrow. Lin yelled at the cat and he dropped the bird. It promptly lifted off and flew into my office. Lin put on a pair of gloves and chased the bird around the room, finally catching and setting it outside. Not all wildlife-in-the-home stories have a bad ending.

But some of these encounters are frightening, especially the rabid fox that entered our garage while I was out of town. Lin called the local game warden and he came and shot it. Our dog, chained in the front yard, had to be quarantined for a while, even though we weren’t sure it got near the fox. All was well that ended well.

And I guess that’s the message here. Choosing to live in and around their homes, we must expect, occasionally, that these wild critters will like our homes. Some we can live with. Some not so much.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.