Photo by Michael R. Jeffords

May 1, 2019

The Emerging Science of Urban Wildlife Management

Scanning out the window, you spy a cute baby rabbit nibbling on the lawn. On a frosty winter day you enjoy sitting with a hot beverage watching the gray squirrels jockey for position on the corn feeder. A summer evening on the patio is spent appreciating the entertainment provided by bats swooping across the darkening sky as they feed on mosquitos.

But then those wild visitors venture a little too close for your comfort. That rabbit matures and discovers your garden, spoiling your plan for a bounty of canned produce over the winter months. Tracking the source of faulty wiring you discover one of those frisky squirrels has chewed through the house siding and set up residence in your attic. Entering the storage shed you smell an odd odor and discover the bat roost.

A opossum.
Photo by Michael R. Jeffords.

Growing up, our home was surrounded by a hardwood forest, and we knew it was inevitable that each fall someone would happen across a black rat snake seeking a warm winter refuge inside the house. It would be carried away—to some distance—and thanked for perhaps feeding on a few white-footed mice also seeking shelter for the upcoming winter. And then there was the summer many of our evenings of television time would be interrupted by a bat cruising the length of the family room. Everyone simply took position as a door opener or bat driver. After shooing it outside all were left to wonder, yet again, where it was entering. My parents were both nature-enthusiasts and tolerant of an occasional indoor wild visitor. It was the raccoons raiding the bird feeder, or the chipmunks tearing into the flower beds, that would test their patience.

Today, nearly 80 percent of the population of North America lives in urban areas, with wildlife living in even the densest of areas. Spurred on by the urbanization of North America, the science of urban wildlife management has evolved, driven by the development of management practices which rely on a social-ecological system involving social, economic, political and ecological considerations. Urban wildlife managers strive to balance the needs of wildlife and humans, preserve biodiversity, maintain the ecological functions of urban habitats and educate homeowners and residents on how to live with wildlife. Researchers are working to understand urban wildlife, including how wildlife adapts and interacts in the urban environment and how to develop potential solutions to human-wildlife conflicts.

A raccoon surrounded by grasses.
Photo by Susan L. Post.

As places for humans to reside, work and recreate have developed, wildlife habitats have become fragmented. Some associated wildlife species have become habituated to human environments, such as Canada geese adapting to living in fragmented habitats created through development. Other species, including urban raccoons and opossums, have adapted their diets to take advantage of new foods.

“We all enjoy seeing wildlife in our yards and in the wild, but unfortunately in some rare situations wild animals create conflicts by causing some form of damage,” explained Scott Beckerman, State Director for U. S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. “In these rare situations people should first attempt to alter what is attracting the animal to the location, and then exclude it from the site or disperse it away from the area.”

Most wildlife tries to avoid interaction with humans, but with the loss of natural habitats many find the easiest place to establish their roost or nest is where we feel it isn’t appropriate—in our home, chimney, window well or garage. And, lacking sufficient natural foods, they may turn to our gardens and landscape plants. Here enters your personal level of tolerance for sharing space with wildlife.

A groundhog
Photo by Michael R. Jeffords.

According to the 2017 Wildlife Damage Management in Illinois report prepared by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), most of the Nuisance Animal Removal Permits were issued for problems with raccoons. Rounding out the top five problematic species were opossums, woodchucks, skunks and squirrels. Most wildlife conflicts (78 percent) occurred in northeast Illinois, including the greater Chicago metropolitan area.

How do you handle a wildlife visitor? First you need to identify what species is causing the conflict. If you are lucky you sight the culprit, otherwise you must find alternative ways to identify the animal—tracks, gnaw marks, fur or feces. Armed with species identification you can take proper animal abatement procedures. The Wildlife Illinois online resource provides excellent tips for species identification and the best practices to exclude (fencing, heavy wire screen to close access points, etc.), repel or deter (birdfeeder guard, removing pet food, securing garbage containers, etc.) wildlife.

Beckerman explained that as a last resort the animal may have to be removed.

A grey squirrel eating seeds in a bird feeder.
Photo by Sheila Newenham.

“In those occasional instances when exclusion, repellants and deterrents don’t work, the quickest remedy a property owner has is to seek the assistance of a licensed professional who possess a Nuisance Wildlife Control permit (Illinois Administrative Code Nuisance Wildlife Control),” Beckerman continued. “From the species page on Wildlife Illinois the nuisance animal removal permit link can be accessed, which will be directed to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources District Wildlife Biologist covering the county or address submitted.”

Upon the discovery of a wild animal in or near your home, examine your perceptions. Do a little research using the information on Wildlife Illinois. You may be surprised to find a change in your attitude of living with wildlife.

Kathy Andrews Wright is retired from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where she was editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine. She is currently the editor of Outdoor Illinois Wildlife Journal and Illinois Audubon magazine.

Share and enjoy!

Submit a question for the author