Canadian Wildlife Federation LogoEnvironment and Climate Change Canada Logo

Dealing with Problems

Keep The Peace

Restore Balance to Your Community Habitat

When we disrupt habitat and the natural balance of an ecosystem, the inevitable result is a clash between humans and wildlife. Many species have quietly disappeared in the face of continuous human development. Meanwhile, other creatures have flourished in environmentally blighted cities and towns.

Eighty per cent of us live in urban areas where problem animals, such as raccoons, rats, pigeons, skunks, and squirrels, also reside in abundance. The fact is that living in harmony with nature means not only attracting wildlife but also repelling certain species from our backyards and communities. In the past, we’ve been too quick to poison, trap, or shoot so-called pests. In fact, these creatures simply do what comes naturally to them — pursuing their basic needs for food, water, and shelter. Although poisoning them may offer a short-term solution, we now realize that such drastic measures are extremely harmful to our planet and, consequently, to our quality of life.

It makes a lot more sense to find creative, non-toxic ways to handle such problems. This chapter offers us advice on how to live in harmony with a variety of not-so-popular species. It also reminds us that, when planning wildlife habitat, we should make sure we’re not setting our projects up for failure. (Building an amphibian pool in an area overrun with raccoons is just one example of a recipe for disaster.)

When dealing with problem wildlife, always remember to avoid handling or cornering any animal. Rabies is a genuine threat in rats, skunks, raccoons, and other mammals. When all else fails, seek advice from your local wildlife agency, municipality, or provincial ministry of natural resources.


Repel Rascally Raccoons

Raccoons are very comfortable living near people. In Ontario cities, there are usually eight to 16 of these mammals per square kilometre. In some areas, that number can be as high as 85! In rural districts, the population density ranges from four to 20 per square kilometre. 

Cute and pesky, raccoons sometimes make their dens in houses, cottages, garages,
and sheds. Occasionally, they can cause serious property damage. It’s always wise to keep a safe distance from any wild animal, but now the risk of raccoon rabies in Southern Ontario makes it especially important.

If you have raccoons around that are making a nuisance of themselves, or if you live where raccoon rabies is a threat, here’s a check-list to manage the problem effectively:


Come to Terms With Squirrels

Grey or black squirrels are a common sight in urban and suburban communities. These sprightly rodents can drive home-owners to distraction when they scamper around in attics or hog all the food from bird feeders.

Here are a few ways to deal with squirrels effectively without excluding them from your
community habitat:


Get Rid of Rats

One of the most common and troublesome rodents is the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). This alarmingly adaptable species is found worldwide in basements, sewers, dumps, and buildings of all kinds. It dives and swims well and is at home in cities, towns, and villages. 

In residential areas, this species is attracted to garbage cans, compost heaps, pet dishes, and bird feeders. If rats are running you ragged, try the following tips to drive them away from your property:


Banish Unwanted Weeds and Bugs

Make your community habitat a healthier place or wildlife. Use safe alternatives to chemical pesticides. 

Pull unwelcome weeds like dandelions and thistles instead of blasting them — and other wildlife — with chemical herbicide. You’ll find excellent books about natural pest control alternatives at most libraries.


Subdue Snails ad Slugs

Almost all tender young plants are favoured by slugs and snails. They can easily destroy entire plantings, leaving behind a wake of ragged and chewed foliage. 

Here are some practical solutions to snail and slug infestations in your community habitat:


Give First Aid to Insect-infested Trees

Every year, we lose millions of hectares of trees to insects and disease. A loss of trees means a loss of wildlife habitat too. By and large, insect infestations occur only on weaker trees. Strong, healthy trees are far less vulnerable and usually recover if they do get infected. One exception to this rule is Dutch elm disease, which inevitably affects mature elm trees.

Chemical controls for most of the problems outlined below are too often the first line of defence against unwanted insects. The results are temporary and the effects on non-target species can be detrimental. To keep insect problems under control, it makes a lot more sense to attract natural insect predators than to rely on chemicals that harm the environment. The planting projects in Chapter Three and the building projects in Chapter Four will help you entice a variety of voracious insectivores into your project site.

Here are some symptoms to look for as you monitor your trees for insect infestations:

The following insect problems commonly affect trees in urban communities:


Minimize Vandalism

Get as many community members involved in your project as possible. Involve them from day one with your planning, research, fund-raising, building, planting, and so on. Vandalism decreases when people feel a sense of responsibility towards a project.