Best Practices for Wildlife Damage Management

Best practices, a step-by-step guide

Overall learning objectives for this chapter

  1. Understand the best practices approach to solving wildlife conflicts.
  2. Know how to interview people and inspect sites to figure out what caused the problem.
  3. Describe the different management options available to your customers.
  4. Be familiar with the techniques used to remove wildlife from buildings and outdoor areas.
  5. .Identify the different euthanasia methods, and
    know when and why you might use each one.
  6. Understand how to prevent wildlife damage.
  7. Know why it’s important to evaluate your practices, and what you can gain from this effort.


Learning objectives

5.1          List the five steps involved in the best practices approach to solving wildlife conflicts.

5.2          Give one example of why it’s crucial to properly identify which species is causing the problem.

The best practices approach to solving a wildlife damage problem includes five steps:

  1. Assess the situation
  2. Choose management options
  3. Do it (tools and techniques)
  4. Prevent future problems
  5. Evaluate success

As a wildlife professional, we hope you’ll help your customers understand that they can protect their homes and businesses from wildlife damage without banishing all wildlife from the community. Whenever possible, use best practices and encourage your customers to solve their problems for good—not just temporarily.

Remember, in chapters one and two, we described a best practice as an effective method for solving a nuisance wildlife problem that also minimizes risks to the environment and our health and well-being. This decision-making strategy balances concerns about safety; the humane treatment of wildlife; practicality; landowner rights; the protection of wildlife popula­tions and habitats; and ethical, legal, financial, and aesthetic issues. Often, the most effective long-term solution involves the use of several best practices, such as a combination of removal and exclusion.

This manual focuses on best practices but in some circumstances, legal techniques that aren’t described in this manual may be appropriate. For example, in an emergency, the need to ensure safety may be so press­ing that a technique which doesn’t satisfy all of the criteria well enough to rate as a “best practice” is considered the best choice for that situation. That’s one of the strengths of the best practices approach: it’s flexible and offers many options.

Ch. 5: Best practices, a step-by-step guide-1

Some methods that seem questionable today could be perfected and achieve the status not only of best practice, but also become standard operating procedure. For that reason, we have included discussion of some practices that have not yet been well-researched, but seem promising. If you’re won­dering about the merits of a tool or technique, seek information from a trustworthy and current source. (Again, you may wish to check the online version of this manual at

Now, with your understanding of the best practices decision-making strategy, and the legal and safety issues you may confront on the job, we’re ready for the details, the tools and techniques that form best practices. This is when you get to play detective: investigating the situation, and then using your expertise to solve the puzzle.

Sounds like a lot of trouble! Is it worth it? Yes. Here’s a real-life example that shows why. In one case, night herons were raiding a fish hatchery. Researchers wanted to know if they could fake out the birds, so they played a tape of a propane cannon explosion to drive them off (that’s much easier than using the real thing). But six nights later, the birds were used to the noise and settled back down to their dinner. Then the scientists tried a recording of night heron distress calls. Bingo! More than 80% of the herons left the pond, and six months later, this technique still worked. Here’s the crucial bit: most birds only react to distress calls from their own species. So if the researchers hadn’t bothered to properly identify who was causing the damage, they might have used the wrong sounds.

Maybe you don’t handle agricultural problems, but don’t worry, you’ll encounter many cases of mistaken identity. Some customers may confuse raccoons for badgers (which aren’t even found in New York), woodchucks for muskrats, or moles for voles. Is it a young Norway rat or an adult house mouse? The techniques used to deal with those animals differ. Proper identification is the first step to identifying the source of the problem.

Resist the temptation to jump to conclusions, too. Just because an animal is seen at the “scene of the crime” doesn’t mean it’s the culprit. For example, turkeys are sometimes blamed for crop damage that was actually caused by raccoons. Why? Turkeys are active during the day, so people are more likely to notice them in the fields. Raccoons are primarily nocturnal so fewer people are aware of their activities.

A note about this chapter’s organization. It’s long and there’s a lot of important information, so we’ve broken it into five sections, to match the five steps of the best practices approach.

To help you keep the big picture in mind, there’s a box on the righthand-side of each page spread that lists all five steps. If we’re in section one, discussing step one, then you’ll see all the details for step one. And if something is mentioned in that two-page spread, it shows in boldface type in the box. So, for example, on page 5-3, you’ll see that Step One, “Assess the situation” now has two bullets under it: “interview” and “inspection.” In this spread, “assess the situation” is shown in boldface. On page 5-5, that switches to “assess the situation” and “interview.” We hope this will make it easier for you to remember the key points and see how it all fits together. Later, once you’re familiar with the information, it should also make it easier to quickly look up something.

Higher, deeper, further…

·  Start your own “wildlife: who is it?” file, for those species that customers often misidentify, such as moles and voles. Jot down a few quick questions you could ask over the phone to help identify the species correctly.


Before you move on to the next section, you may wish to review the learning objectives for this section:

5.1          List the five steps involved in the best practices approach to solving wildlife conflicts.

5.2          Give one example of why it’s crucial to properly identify which species is causing the problem.

Review questions

  1. Your customer believes there are rats in their apartment. You find smudge marks on the wall and dry, hard droppings that crumble when you touch them. The table lamp’s wire is frayed. You want to put down nontoxic tracking powder to determine if there’s still an infestation, and if so, whether it’s rats or mice. This upsets your customer, who wants you to put down traps immediately. How do you explain your strategy?
  2. My traps are expensive, so I don’t take them out unless I’m sure they’re needed.
  3. To do the best job for you, I have to be sure whether it’s rats or mice because the techniques for catching them are different. For example, I’d use a smaller trap for mice.
  4. I charge more for rats so I’d need to know before I write up the contract
  5. I’m writing a book and need a good photograph of rat tracks. Do you mind?
  6. Pick the 5 steps involved in the best practices approach to solving wildlife conflicts:

___ assess the situation

___ order pizza for your crew

___ take photos of the whole site for your records

___ choose management options

___ do it (use those tools and techniques)

___ clean-up all the signs of the animal’s presence

___ kill the animals

___ prevent future problems

___ evaluate your success


  • b (In addition to using a bigger trap to catch rats, you also need to pre-bait because rats are afraid of new objects. Mice are curious and will investigate traps).
  • The five steps to best practices for nuisance wildlife control are: assess the situation; choose management options; do it (use those tools and techniques); prevent future problems; and evaluate your success.