For most New Jersey residents, autumn is the idyllic season for taking long strolls and watching leaves erupt with vibrant colors. For wildlife, however, it's the best time to rummage for food, seek out winter housing and set up breeding areas before the frost sets in. That often means setting up their winter homes on your property or association's grounds.
Although many animals can be pleasant to watch, the increasing number of common New Jersey wildlife—such as raccoons, deer, geese, skunks and squirrels—around human habitats can quickly become a major nuisance to homeowners and interfere with an association's maintenance of their property. These creatures can pillage trash, lawns and gardens, nest in a chimney or attic, create unpleasant odors, and may cause an annoying ruckus for even the most tolerant nature lovers.
Raccoons and Bunnies and Squirrels, Oh My!
According to Ron Jones, a wildlife control specialist at Animal Control Products in Monroeville, "The number of animals in our area is growing fast because the animals have learned to adapt and live in a human environment. Everybody has trash cans, landscaping—like blackberry and maples—so the animal's food source is there. There's a constant food supply, yards are more open, and the trees grow better. As a result, their natural habitat has been replaced with our easier habitat and the animals are doing better."
New Jersey's wildlife control experts list squirrels and raccoons as the most frequent complaints from condominium and co-op dwellers. "Squirrels and raccoons find ways of chewing into attics and ripping up insulation, and it's very common for a female to give birth there," says Stuart Aust, president of Bug Doctor Termite and Pest Control in Paramus. "And squirrels bear young twice a year."
This type of damage to structures and property is just one example of the three biggest concerns from wildlife invasion. "The most common problem is nuisance—such as droppings, noise, lawn, tree and shrubbery damage," says Stephen Vantassel of Wildlife Damage Control in Springfield, Massachusetts. "The second concern is property damage, and the third is health risks [for humans]."
Health concerns include rabies, a fatal disease that is rare in humans but can still be spread by close contact with contaminated wildlife, including bats, raccoons and squirrels. Rabies in raccoons first appeared in New Jersey around 1989 and since then, raccoon rabies have been found in all New Jersey cities and towns. Suburban areas in which raccoons, people, and pets are in close proximity have had the highest number of cases. Rabies in bats has been a problem throughout New Jersey at least since 1939. In addition, raccoon feces may contain raccoon roundworm, the spores of which humans can breathe in and become ill.
Another health hazard comes from goose droppings. Geese are stubborn, defensive and aggressive and can generate unpleasant and unsanitary conditions on private lawns, golf courses, and common areas with their recurrent droppings. These droppings contain parasites and microorganisms that can pose a substantial risk to the residents' health if the problem is ignored.
Fending Off Mother Nature
To successfully control the wildlife population and the troubles they may bring, homeowners associations and residents need to be educated about their feathery or furry guests and take a proactive approach to performing regular preventative maintenance tasks.
The first, most important task to prevent animals from encroaching is to remove their food source. This can be done easily by making certain all trash bins and dumpsters are closed, outside pet food bowls are removed at night and bird feeders adequately contain the birdseed.
"I love bird feeders—they keep me in business," jokes Vantassel. "Bird feeders enhance the wildlife capacity, because where this is a supply, there will be a demand—thus more mice, squirrels and raccoons. If you feed a squirrel, you increase its life expectancy three to five years."
Next, make a financial investment to tighten up openings in your buildings. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA), a trade association made up of pest control companies, lists mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons and opossums among the rodents that may try to infiltrate your home between October and February. Common points of entry include pet doors, holes in walls, missing vent screens, openings around pipes and dryer duct vents—even openings as small as a nickel or half dollar are more than enough for a mouse or svelte rat.
If a critter has made its habitat inside the structure or on the land and just won't leave peacefully, make sure residents don't take matters into their own hands and try to remove the animals themselves from the property. Instead, it is advisable to contact a wildlife management professional.
Booting the Critters
If you've got uninvited guests on your association's property despite your best efforts to discourage them, it may be time to call in the professionals. Wildlife managers will collaborate with a building or association community's maintenance department to examine the structure and locate the animal's entry. Then the professional will set a trap—usually a humane or "no-kill" caging device that doesn't injure the animal and allows animal control specialists to remove it to a better habitat.
Long gone are the days of Bill Murray's gopher-stalking character in Caddyshack. Modern animal control specialists try to keep the interests of both the client and the critter in mind when going about their work. "We want the animal to live and to get out safely," says Aust. "Our traps have food and water, so if they do get in, they have something to hold them over."
Some other more humane, non-lethal treatments include exclusion, harassing, repellents, and relocation. Fencing is one form of exclusion designed to provide a barrier from wildlife on the property. This is an option for deer, raccoons and skunks, although deer can hop some fences and raccoons can climb. Electric fencing attracts an animal to come to the fence, but delivers a strong yet harmless electric shock. The shock will hopefully keep the animal from returning.
Harassing an animal off the property basically means to annoy it until it leaves in a huff, usually through the use of sound, or occasionally dogs. Wildlife control experts must be careful, however, because some wildlife are subject to harassment restrictions. For example, wildlife control specialists need a federal permit to harass nesting geese.
"The permit allows us to round up and get rid of eggs so they don't hatch," says Jones. "We harass the geese, but it's not an easy process. You have to be out there several times a day in order to be effective."
No Magic Bullet
Not all experts agree that these methods—relatively humane as they are—are a permanent resolution to the problem. "Nothing works for everything," says Vantassel. "The problem with products—even those that work—is that you have to keep applying them. We are desperate for magic and want something we can spray or plug into the wall that we can't hear, but that wildlife can. These techniques only work if the animal has somewhere else to go to get food."
Once nuisance animals are removed from a property, relocation is decided on a case-by-case basis depending on the species. According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, New Jersey has strict laws governing the removal of wild animals. Whenever possible, wildlife is released close to the site of capture, but it can return to its last home if the food source is not removed or the point of entry closed. Relocation of larger animals—like deer—is trickier still, and must be handled by a licensed relocator.
If the transfer of a wildlife animal will merely move the problem to another site, or if the animal is seriously ill or injured, or has behavioral problems like aggression, then the euthanasia of the creature is considered. It depends on the circumstances, however. Killing geese—unless approved by federal or state agencies or during hunting season—is prohibited.
The Beast Masters
Currently, aside from having the state-issued business license any service provider must carry, wildlife management professionals are not required to be licensed by any trade organizations. This may make your board or managing agent's choice of animal control specialist simpler or more difficult, depending on how you look at it, the experts say.
"Whoever you contract [with] should be a member of the National Pest Management Association," suggests Aust. "Most members are attending seminars and conferences so they'll be up-to-date on the latest treatments."
The fees for preventative wildlife control are specific to what kind of pest is causing havoc, and removal of an animal often depends on the species, number of animals and trapping method. As animals are allowed to run amuck and multiply, the fee for getting rid of them rises exponentially. "Many animal problems could be prevented if you just spend the money now to save a ton later," says Vantassel.
On average, expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars for the removal of one animal. While this may sound inexpensive, the fees will increase significantly if the building provides more than one opportunity for an animal to seek shelter inside. Instead, homeowners' associations should invest wisely to prevent the problems from occurring at all.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie, New York.