A recent story in U.S. News and World Report highlighted a simple, creative solution to prevent conflicts with wildlife: The Parks and Outdoors Department in Chattanooga, Tennessee, coated tree trunks with a mixture of sand and latex paint to deter beavers from gnawing on the trees for food and or to use them for building a dam or lodge. Weakening tree trunks can create safety hazards for the locals enjoying a walk in the park; in the past, the beavers might have been killed to prevent these hazards. In the world of wildlife management, painted trees represent a humane and effective approach, one that is the result of years of changing perceptions of wildlife and learning to appreciate our wild neighbors.

Chattanooga Parks and Outdoors Department

Every year in the U.S., millions of wild animals are unnecessarily killed under the pretext of “managing” human-wildlife conflicts. Conflicts occur with “nuisance” species, such as raccoons, skunks and groundhogs, and also occur situationally with other species that people may even hold in high regard, such as bears, chipmunks and birds.

For years, our wildlife protection team has been at the forefront of developing humane and effective alternatives for solving conflicts with wildlife, not only for the sake of animals but also for the sake of reason. That’s because lethal removal of animals treats only a symptom of the problem, not the source, which means the problem is likely to recur, and the opportunity for communities to learn about wildlife and how to live alongside animals is lost. The decision to kill wildlife typically comes from a lack of appreciation of and information about wildlife that could foster coexistence.

We are changing the way communities respond to wildlife conflict. We identify gaps in services and help communities to understand more about the wild animals who live with us. Our Wild Neighbors program works with animal care and control agencies, animal shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers, law enforcement, local governments and state wildlife agencies to implement humane solutions for conflicts with wildlife. We develop resources, conflict management templates and species profiles that assist the public and communities to effectively address problems without resorting to lethal control. More than 630 agencies across the U.S. have signed our Wild Neighbors pledge to solve wildlife conflicts humanely and effectively, which is good news for bears, bats, raccoons, coyotes and many other species. We’re also spreading the word about how to best reunite and renest orphaned wildlife. Since 2020, we have trained more than 7,000 animal care and control professionals in humane wildlife conflict resolution techniques.

In the case of beavers, it’s been common practice to trap and kill them to prevent flooding related to their dams and to maintain trees, without understanding the animals’ role as a keystone species, meaning they’re essential to a functioning ecosystem. Not only is there a growing awareness about beavers and how to protect trees from unwanted gnawing and prevent flooding when dam building occurs, but there is also a heightened understanding that beavers provide promising services that help mitigate the effects of climate change at the landscape level.

During the spring and early summer season, there’s a burst of activity in the world of wildlife, as bears, chipmunks, skunks and other animals seek mates and establish nests or den sites to birth and raise their young. It’s essential to understand that these behaviors are not only temporary, but they’re also fascinating. The more we can encourage communities to embrace curiosity about our wild neighbors, the better we can find humane solutions to prevent conflict in the first place. And we can also go the extra mile by making sure our homes and backyards don’t pose dangerous hazards to animals.

Learn more about coexisting with wildlife and creating a humane backyard.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.