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April 14, 2011

Portrait of an Innovator: Bringing Humane Wildlife Control to Vermont

Wildlife rehabilitator JoAnn Nichols uses humane techniques to remove unwanted wild animals

  • Wildlife rehabilitator JoAnn Nichols started Into the Wild, to give people a humane, effective way to evict wild animals. JoAnn Nichols

  • Freshly evicted, this opossum will be safely set free nearby, and he won't be able to re-enter the house. JoAnn Nichols

by Julie Hauserman

The problem wasn’t unusual: Squirrels had made themselves at home between the ceiling and roof of a Vermont house. But the company that answered the call for help was.

Into the Wild, started a year ago by JoAnn Nichols, uses humane methods to evict wild animals from buildings. Nichols deals with all manner of critters—porcupines, rabbits, weasels, opossums, beavers, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, mice, rats, bats, birds, woodchucks, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats.

Detective work

Nichols’ first step in tackling the squirrel problem was a bit of detective work. She blocked several holes in the home’s exterior with newspaper. Later, she checked the holes, and if the newspaper had been disturbed, she knew that the squirrels were using that hole as an entrance. Nichols then installed one-way doors on the active squirrel holes and sealed all the other holes to prevent the squirrels from getting back in.

Voila—no more squirrels in the house.

» Pick a humane wildlife control company
» Live in the Washington, DC, area? Contact Humane Wildlife Services

Cutting edge practice

Animals trapped by wildlife-removal companies (also known as nuisance wildlife or wildlife control companies) are often drowned, gassed, shot, or bludgeoned to death.

“Right now, the majority of the nuisance wildlife control industry uses methods that we consider inhumane,” says Laura Simon, field director for The HSUS’s Urban Wildlife program. “Humanely evicting animals, and then excluding them from a dwelling, is cutting-edge practice, and it is the model that more nuisance wildlife control companies should follow.”

“We have a handful of humane practitioners in the U.S.,” Simon adds. “JoAnn Nichols is one of the practitioners who is doing the job right.”

“Just looking for a place to live”

Nichols' many years as a wildlife rehabilitator taught her that often the so-called “nuisance” animals that get into buildings are simply mothers who have found a quiet, protected den site to give birth and tend to their young.

When trappers kill mothers, the babies are often left stranded inside buildings, where they will die if they aren’t rescued.

“As our culture keeps taking up more and more land, building things and filling wetlands, these animals are becoming displaced from their normal corridors,” Nichols says. “They are just looking for a place to live.”

Addressing the real problem

“There are humane alternatives to lethal control,” says John Griffin, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Wildlife Services, a for-fee wildlife conflict resolution service that is a program of The HSUS. “But many states allow companies to use cruel, deadly methods to solve conflicts with wildlife.”

“Animals get killed all the time, and many times it is a short-term solution that the consumer will have to pay for again down the road because the real problem was not addressed.”

Step by step

Practitioners like Griffin and Nichols first identify which species is occupying the building. Then they come up with an appropriate way either to remove or exclude the animal (using a one-way door, for example.) They always reunite mothers with their young and release animals on site—because there are serious drawbacks to trapping and relocating wildlife. "The mother will relocate the young herself," says Griffin. "All these mammals have alternate den sites.” The final step is to close any holes in the building with material that keeps critters out.

Education

Nichols spends a lot of time teaching people how to avoid problems. “I try to educate the homeowner about how to wildlife-proof their home,” she says. That might mean bringing pet food indoors, securing trash can lids, or sealing holes in the home’s exterior. “If you don’t seal up the entry points, other animals will move in,” says Simon.

Griffin and Nichols hope their success in using humane techniques in the business will bring more widespread change in the industry.

Things you can do

» Learn more about how to humanely solve problems with wildlife
» Pick a humane wildlife control company
» Live in the Washington, DC, area? Contact Humane Wildlife Services
» Live in Vermont? Contact Into the Wild

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