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October 8, 2009

Good Fences Make Good (Wild) Neighbors

Exclude wild animals from your yard or garden by erecting a well-constructed fence

The Humane Society of the United States

  • A single strand electric fence can be set at different heights to deter a number of species. The HSUS.

  • An L-shaped footer fence is an effective way of keeping digging animals out. John Griffin/The HSUS.

One of the most effective and permanent ways to exclude wild animals from your yard or garden is by erecting a well-constructed fence.

Particularly in places where damage is likely to reoccur—such as the bed of prized petunias that seem to magnetically attract deer, or the vegetable crops regularly plundered by rabbits and woodchucks—fencing can be the most cost-effective solution over the long-term, well worth any initial investment.

Problem-Solving

The trick lies in figuring out what kind of fence is needed for a specific situation. Fence height, material, design, and installation can all vary depending on the kind of animal you want to exclude, and the array of options can be dizzying. We recommend seeking professional advice locally to determine what will work best for you.

Good local sources might include farm supply and fencing companies, or university cooperative extension offices. Some fencing supply companies also provide advice and good information in their catalogues and on their web sites. Be aware that community covenants and local ordinances may restrict the type, size, and design of fencing that you can use on your property.

Note: If you are trying to keep out digging animals, you may need to use an L-shaped footer.

Electric fencing

Electric fencing has long been used by farmers to protect crops. It even has proven effective in keeping large animals, such as bears, from valuable and enticing resources such as beehives. The principle involves delivering a high voltage but low amperage jolt that does not physically harm the animal, but does deliver a shock unpleasant enough to create a strong negative conditioning response.

Because of the great differences in size and susceptibility to shock among species (deer, for example, can be quite resistant to shock because their hooves are relatively good insulators), the exact requirements for effective electric fencing will vary greatly.

Caution: It is important to recognize that electric fences are potentially dangerous to both people and animals. Their use must be in accordance not only with any local restrictions or ordinances but also with common sense. Electric fences should not be used in places where small children or pets could be shocked, and must always be well marked with cautionary signs. All electric fences require frequent inspection and maintenance—it’s important to keep surrounding areas clear to prevent plants from growing into the wires and shorting them out.

Single-strand

Single-strand electric fences set at an appropriate height can deter species ranging from woodchucks and raccoons to deer and bears. Surprisingly, sometimes the fences work best by attracting the animal rather than by repelling it. The theory is that by baiting the animal in to investigate the fence, he is much more likely to be shocked in a way that effectively conditions him to avoid the general area.

For deer or raccoons, use foil strips to hold a lure (peanut butter works well for deer; jam or licorice extract will attract raccoons) that draws the animal to investigate the wire. A variation on this strategy involves individual battery-charged posts that are similarly baited to attract animals and deliver a lesson.

For smaller animals, such as raccoons and woodchucks, single-strand electric fences can be installed in front of non-electrified fences or other obstacles. The shock is then delivered before the animal is able to climb the larger fence. All-in-one kits offer small gardens and backyard ponds an easy electric fence option.

Polytape

Polytape electric fencing is also single-strand, but this much wider and more highly visible tape strip is meant to work as a visual repellent as well as a shocking device. Once an animal has been shocked by a polytape fence, he is likely to both remember and recognize the highly visible tape and avoid going near it again. The brightly colored tape is also more visible to people. There is usually less maintenance required for polytape than for single-strand fences, simply because the greater visibility of the tape prevents it from being knocked down as often.

Multi-strand

Multi-strand, high tensile electric fences are mostly used when protecting highly valued resources, such as orchards or agricultural crops. More than other types of electric fencing, these fences require expertise to install. We recommend consulting with local sources and the fencing companies listed in our Guide to Retail Sources for Products to Resolve Wildlife Conflicts before considering their use and application.

The HSUS supports the use of non-lethal, non-invasive techniques to minimize human-wildlife conflicts. We realize, however, that there are certain situations where these techniques may cause temporary pain or stress—for example, in the use of electric shock to negatively condition animals to avoid places where they are particularly unwelcome.

Such techniques are only appropriate when undertaken in a responsible manner and may require trained and qualified professionals to ensure proper installation.
It is imperative that such measures do not cause severe or lasting harm, are safe for humans, provide negative conditioning only when and where less invasive procedures have failed or will demonstrably not work, and when and where the only remaining alternatives, such as translocation or killing, would be far less desirable.

Keeping families together

If your aim is to use fencing to exclude an animal denning under your porch or similar space, and it's anywhere between March and August, it is extremely likely that the animal is a mother with dependent young in the den. Fencing out the mother during this time will almost certainly result in orphaning or the death of her babies. The best strategy is patience.

As the denning/nesting season is short, be tolerant and wait a few weeks until the family has vacated the premises. Then you can make repairs to prevent animals from moving in again.

Caution: Make sure all animals are out before sealing or fencing off any confined space. If you can find the entry/exit holes, an easy way to determine if the den has been vacated is to loosely cover or fill it with a light material, such as newspaper or insulation. This way the occupant will have to push the obstruction aside to get out or come back in. If the block hasn’t moved for three to four days (and it’s not the dead of winter), the den has been vacated and it is safe to go ahead.

Resources

» If you are located within the D.C. Metro Area, take advantage of our wildlife conflict resolution service. Learn More
» Purchase a copy of Wild Neighbors; the go-to guide for useful, humane solutions to conflicts with wildlife

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