Laws and Regulations

In this Module…

  • Learning Objectives
  • Terms to Know
  • Federal Agencies
  • State Agencies
  • Local Laws and Regulations
  • Non-target Animals
  • Additional Resources
  • Study Questions for Laws and Regulations

Learning Objectives

  1. List the agencies responsible for regulating the control of wildlife.
  2. Explain ethical principles and practices as they apply to the control of wildlife.
  3. Learn when and how different laws and regulations apply to the control or management of specific vertebrate species.
  4. Know the laws for which species that can be managed with your license; the legality of the techniques or methods used; and the considerations and safeguards needed to protect nontarget

Terms to Know

Ethics   A system of moral principles that guides a person’s decisions and actions.

Game species   Wildlife that may be hunted, trapped, or fished in appropriate seasons.

Non-game species   Species that are not harvested and no open seasons are available for their harvest. Most non-game wildlife species are protected and cannot be harmed.

Regulation   Rules created by agencies that interpret and apply statutes.

Statute   A law created by an act of the state legislature or US congress.

Taking/take   Pursuing, shooting, hunting, killing, capturing, trapping, snaring, and netting wildlife and all lesser acts such as disturbing, harrying, or worrying; or placing, setting, drawing, or using any net or other device commonly used to take any such animal.

Unprotected and invasive exotic species (e.g., European starlings or feral hogs).

Laws and Agencies

Animal Damage control is a highly regulated activity. Local, state, and federal laws and regulations are designed to protect wildlife and the public. Always be aware of the current status of laws at all levels of authority. Often, state and local regulations are more restrictive than federal regulations. Different laws and regulations apply to WCOs, pesticide applicators, hunters, trappers, wildlife rehabilitators, and those who control populations of domestic animals.

Federal Agencies

Five major agencies are involved in regulating the wildlife control industry or handling related programs at the federal level.

  • Wildlife Services is part of USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Its goal is to lessen damage caused by wildlife. The Division of Wildlife Services provides federal assistance in addressing wildlife damage issues but does not have a regulatory role. They help manage wildlife to reduce damage to agriculture and natural resources, minimize risks to human health and safety, and help protect endangered and threatened species.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regulates the protection of endangered species and migratory birds.
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the use of toxicants, repellents, and other pesticides.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the Department of Labor regulates worker safety rules (
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes recommendations for the prevention of human and other zoonotic diseases (

In special circumstances, other federal agencies may have jurisdiction, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, which supervises control of wildlife at airports. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) regulates the use of wildlife control pyrotechnics.

Federal Laws

The following discussions include brief descriptions of pertinent federal laws and regulations that affect wildlife control. These are part of the US Code and are found on-line and at most public libraries: “16 U.S.C. 1531-1544, 87 Stat. 884.”

Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 to protect imperiled plant and animal species. The ESA requires that an endangered or threatened species must not be injured or harassed by wildlife control activities. Endangered and threatened species cannot be killed, harmed, or collected except under carefully described circumstances and only with appropriate federal and state permits.

If endangered or threatened species exist in your service area, you must take special precautions. The presence of endangered or threatened species will affect how you set traps or apply pesticides. One measure of professionalism is the level of effort made to protect non-target species, whether they are endangered or not. Endangered species may not be present in most urban settings, however, protected birds often are. Many species of wildlife are protected under state regulations but are not threatened or endangered (e.g., game animals are protected during closed seasons). For more information on the ESA, visit

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) protects all migratory birds, as well as their feathers, nests, and eggs. It does not include pigeons (except banded homing pigeons), house sparrows, or European starlings, which are non-native species. You may not take, possess, or transport migratory birds, nests, or eggs without a federal permit.

Before you attempt to capture or kill a migratory bird (e.g., woodpeckers, raptors, and waterfowl), the landowner must obtain a 50 CFR Depredation Permit from the USFWS (USFWS Bird Depredation Permit ( The permit allows the taking of migratory birds that have become a nuisance, are destructive to public or private property, or are a threat to public health or welfare. The permit spells out the conditions under which the birds may be controlled and the methods that may be used. Permit holders may control migratory birds that are causing, or are about to cause, serious damage to crops, nursery stocks, or fish in hatcheries. A fee is required for the permit.

You may help clients through the permit process and answer questions but you cannot secure the permits for them. When clients fill out the permit application, have them assign your company as the agent to perform the service. A recent exception was added to the regulations allowing WCOs to rescue migratory birds trapped inside buildings, provided they are released unharmed and on-site.

One exception in the MBTA (50 CFR 21.43) is that “a federal permit shall not be required to control red-winged and Brewer’s blackbirds; cowbirds; all grackles, crows, and magpies; when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.” These regulations change periodically. Check that you have the latest information about blackbird depredation and excluded species by contacting the USFWS or your state wildlife agency.

Some states also may have a federal General Depredation Order for control of Canada geese, gulls, and cormorants that are causing conflicts, property damage, or threatening endangered wildlife. Check with your state wildlife agency to determine if a General Depredation Order applies in your work area. A table listing states with General Depredation Orders and species of birds is at as well.

State and local ordinances may further define control activities. For example, in New York the Environmental Conservation Law states: “Red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and cowbirds destroying any crop may be killed during the months of June, July, August, September and October by the owner of the crop or property on which it is growing or by any person in his employ.” Local laws may limit the types of treatments that may be used in controlling birds (e.g., pyrotechnics). Check local and state laws before attempting to control any bird species.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulates the availability and use of pesticides including repellents and toxicants. Unless licensed as a pesticide applicator, a WCO usually cannot legally apply these products as a commercial activity.

Occupational Safety and Health Act

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) sets standards to promote worker safety. For example, workers must be informed in advance about potential job hazards such as possible exposure to histoplasmosis from contact with pigeon droppings. All employers who have more than 10 employees must keep records of all work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses, and report to OSHA periodically. OSHA also oversees the investigation of employee complaints that may be related to the use of chemicals. Even if you do not have more than 10 workers, review OSHA standards and training recommendations, especially those concerning the safe use of ladders, confined spaces, and respirators.

State Agencies

The major agencies involved in wildlife-related work at the state level include:

  • Wildlife and natural resources agencies,
  • Departments of Agriculture,
  • Pesticide review boards, and
  • Departments of Health and Human Services.

State Laws and Regulations

In general, state regulations add restrictions to federal laws. They cannot be less restrictive. Wildlife species that are not regulated by the federal government fall under state jurisdiction. Some problem species are unprotected and have no restrictions on their take. Typically, licenses are not required to hunt, fish, or trap these species. For example, many western states allow the take of coyotes and pocket gophers year-round, in unlimited numbers. In eastern states, however, coyotes often are listed as a game animal with closed seasons and methods that limit their harvest.

States typically classify wildlife in the following ways:

  • Game species may be legally hunted.
  • Furbearer species are captured for fur, usually through trapping. Animals under these designations (game and furbearer species) require a state hunting or trapping license to capture or “take” them.
  • Non-game species are not harvested and no open seasons are available for their harvest. Most non-game wildlife species are protected and cannot be harmed.
  • Unprotected and invasive exotic species (e.g., European starlings or feral hogs). These animals can usually be taken anytime without special permits.

Local Agencies

The major agencies involved in wildlife-related work at the local level include:

  • Municipal animal control
  • Humane societies
  • County sheriff and police departments
  • County departments of health and human services.

Local Laws and Regulations

In recent years, some animal control agencies have extended enforcement of regulations developed for the humane treatment of domesticated animals to the treatment of wildlife. In some states, state laws against animal cruelty also apply to wildlife. For example, WCOs have been cited for animal cruelty because cage-trapped animals did not have access to water. It is imperative that your wildlife control activities be humane and in accordance with the highest standards. Just because a technique is legal does not mean it is wise or appropriate. Always consider how a conflict situation might be perceived by clients and the public. Keep in mind that with public access to cell phone cameras, any of your activities might be filmed and appear in the media.

Non-target Animals

In general, a non-target animal is an individual animal or species that is not the objective in an effort to manage wildlife.

If you are authorized to control a species, most states permit you to deal with it according to the wishes of the client. If the animal is a rabies vector species (e.g., raccoon, skunk, or fox), some states require it to be euthanized regardless of whether it was targeted.

The legal situation becomes more unclear when dealing with domestic animals. House cats, in particular, frequently enter traps. If the cat is owned, it must be released. It often is unclear, however, if feral cats are considered wild or domestic. Most states do not clarify this situation, so WCOs may work with local animal shelters when capturing feral domestic animals. Your local government may require domestic species to be taken to your local animal shelter for final disposition. Always investigate the rules before you act.

Additional Resources

US Fish & Wildlife Service –

USDA APHIS Wildlife Services

Study Questions for Laws and Regulations

Questions for Reflection

  1. Name at least 3 federal agencies and describe their responsibilities related for WDM activities.
  2. A client’s home has suffered thousands of dollars in damage from a woodpecker. Your use of frightening devices has not diminished the activity. During a service call, you notice a baited rat trap attached to the house near some fresh woodpecker damage. How should you respond?
  3. You cage-trapped a raccoon that looks ill. The client orders you to release it because he does not want to be charged for it (you were trapping for skunks). What would you do?
  4. You are hired to clean a 3,800-square foot attic that had one obvious raccoon latrine. The customer asks you to help them file their claim with the insurance company and wants you to help them get the whole attic repaired. Do you quote all 3,800 square feet when the only raccoon latrine is less than 10 square feet?
  5. What principle(s) do you think are valuable in guiding quality customer service?

Objective Questions

  1. Three federal agencies involved in regulating wildlife control activities are
  2. EPA
  3. OSHA
  4. USFWS
  5. DOD
  6. FIFRA
  1. You have been hired to manage damage caused by a woodpecker. What agencies must you contact before you can initiate lethal control? Circle all that apply.
  2. USFWS
  3. state wildlife agency
  4. humane society
  5. local animal control
  6. police department
  1. Do you need a permit to rescue a hawk trapped in a building?
  2. yes
  3. no
  4. it depends
  1. You have caught an uninjured, collared, and licensed cat in your raccoon-sized cage-trap. What should you do?
  2. release it
  3. bring to local animal control
  4. euthanize it
  5. ask the client
  1. Circle correct word. State laws cannot be more/less restrictive than federal laws.