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Skunks and other displaced wildlife overrun parts of Wheatfield

By Johnny Destino

Rapid development in Wheatfield has brought the wild kingdom closer to home.

Something stinks in the Town of Wheatfield (and it’s not what you think). Residents are complaining about the increasing numbers of skunks and other nuisance species moving in to their neighborhoods.

A combination of laws, budget restraints, and habitat displacement appears to be causing a surge in the visible populations - making it harder and more expensive for those trying to do something about it.

“The skunk population is out of hand on [my street],” said Kathy Otto, a Wheatfield resident trying to figure out how to deal with the foul-smelling striped skunks that roam through her yard. “I hear we no longer have animal control in Wheatfield due to budget cuts. What can be done?” Otto has been left wondering what her options are with regard to removing the unwelcomed visitors. “If I trap it myself, will the SPCA come get it? Can I shoot them? My dog got skunked in our own yard twice!”

On a Wheatfield message board, another frustrated pet owner in the same neighborhood remarked that she doesn’t know what she is going to do about the skunks. “On Sy Road they're a huge problem too! They're living under our shed. Our dog is sprayed weekly,” she said.

In addition to skunks, Otto also believes there are other potentially dangerous species posing serious problems in the area. “Two weeks ago my dog went out to go to the bathroom and two minutes later came back with a bite out of her bum.” Otto thinks this is “nuts” and can’t believe that her pet is getting attacked by wild life in her own yard. Otto did not get a glimpse of the animal that bit her dog, but believes it was a raccoon. Her newest cause for concern now is that “[Raccoons] are the largest carrier of rabies!”

Another Wheatfield homeowner posting on the message board has observed the increasingly visible nature of raccoons in her neighborhood. She noted that she has “seen them along Walmore Road on [her] way home at the end of people's driveways waiting to cross!” Apparently, both the skunks and raccoons are making themselves right at home in this residential neighborhood.

In another part of town, raccoons have been found nesting on property that an owner is failing to properly maintain. A neighbor colorfully blames the town for failing to cite the owner and force them to clean up their property.

He commented that “we have a raccoon problem here ‘cause of the neighbor's $h!t hole next door and the town does nothing.” He continued that “it is so bad that folks on Witmer Road don't take their garbage out until the mornin’ of.”

Former Wheatfield Animal Control Officer, Craig Schultz, suggested several reasons why homeowners in Wheatfield are noticing an influx of animals. “With the development of more and more land in Wheatfield, the animals are forced to adapt. Unfortunately for us, these animals do rather well living next to us humans,” said Schultz.

“Homeowners need to pay attention to the fixtures and accessories they place in their yards. Birdfeeders, ponds, and sheds that are raised off the ground are like full service hotels for animals such as skunks and raccoons.”

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation website, “[t]he skunk lives in a variety of habitats but prefers open areas. Its numbers usually decline as abandoned fields and pastures become forested.

However, roadside and lawn mowing, or any maintenance practice which prevents the development of a forest canopy, favors the continued existence of skunks. Residential areas that have both lawns and large, mast producing shade trees often provide optimal habitat for skunks.” (http://www.dec.ny.gov/) Schultz also cautions that a coyote presence in the region is becoming more widespread due to the continued clearing of woodlands in this area.

Residents wondering what to do about the presences of nuisance animals have several options, but are limited by the Town’s current lack of a licensed Animal Control Officer. Town of Wheatfield Supervisor, Bob Cliffe, explains on the Town’s website that “it is not legal for an unlicensed Town employee to trap and move skunks from your property. Nor is it legal for a Town employee to trap and euthanize a skunk, raccoon or other nuisance animal and remove that deceased animal from your property.” (http://wheatfield.ny.us/animalControl.html)

Because of these prohibitions and the lack of a licensed Animal Control Officer working for the Town, Cliffe has provided information helpful to Wheatfield residents dealing with the unwanted guests. Cliffe writes that “[i]f you can no longer deal with these wild animals, it is legal for you to hire a private, licensed Nuisance Wildlife Control Officer (NWCO ), and have that officer work for you. That officer will know the law and will relocate or euthanize the skunk or other nuisance for you lawfully.” Cliffe cautions, however, that “[t]here will likely be a charge for that service.” Several such licensed NWCO’s are listed on the Town website.

David Muir is one such NWCO listed on the town’s website and he believes he knows why residents are noticing a significant rise in the numbers of these animals. Muir said that “whenever we have a mild winter followed by an easy spring, we can expect these animal populations to boom.” Development of the area also factors into Muir’s analysis of how these populations thrive. “The subdivisions give them plenty of places of live and breed and also easy access to food. Right now the only major predator threatening their numbers is the automobile.”

Homeowners are able to exercise self-help in eliminating these nuisance species, but the most immediate way to limit the intrusions is to make sure you’re not making your yard such an inviting place to visit. Cliffe suggests visiting the Department of Environmental Conservation website for a list of best practices in dealing with problem animals. Cliffe notes that “removing food sources” is one of the easiest ways to deter these animals.

For those wishing to tackle the problem themselves, Cliffe advises that “it is also legal for you to trap and terminate nuisance animals on your own property provided you then bury that animal on your own property. It is also legal to hunt or trap skunks and other nuisance animals during their hunting season with a valid hunting license.”

Kathy Otto still can’t believe how rapidly this nuisance problem is progressing. She said that “when I moved to Wheatfield three years ago, I spent $1,400.00 on an invisible fence to keep my dog safe. I never imagined the danger would be inside my own yard!” Having lived in rural areas of Niagara and Erie County all of her life, Otto observed thatshe never experienced these problems in the Town of Lewiston or Grand Island.



Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Dec 31 , 2012