By Janet Eastman

The Oregonian

Protect yourself, your property and wildlife

Oregon’s fish and wildlife agency has specific tips to handle creatures, from beneficial ones like bats and owls to harmful raccoons and bears.

• Learn your neighborhood.

• Be aware of any wildlife corridors or where animals concentrate.

• Walk dogs during the day and keep them on a leash.

• Keep pets indoors at dawn and dusk. Shelter them for the night. Feed pets indoors.

• Don’t leave food or garbage outside. Use animal-proof garbage cans if necessary.

• Remove heavy, concealing brush from near the house and play areas.

• Install motion-activated lights along walkways and driveways.

• Do not feed wildlife. You may attract larger animals.

• Keep areas around bird feeders clean.

• Deer-proof your garden and yard with nets, lights and fencing.

• Fence and shelter live stock. Move them to sheds or barns at night.

News of a cougar prowling a neighborhood puts people on alert.

But every day, coyotes, raccoons and other potentially harmful animals cross city streets, mostly undetected.

Oregon wildlife experts agree that as humans build in animal habitats, creatures carrying diseases and attracted to new gardens and shelters will invade in more numbers, no longer fearful of being seen.

Cougars and other wildlife are encroaching on established neighborhoods as their population grows, and young ones search for a meal and a place to live, said Derek Broman, a wildlife biologist who leads the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s large carnivore program.

Green spaces, areas along lakes and river and woody ridgelines are “wildlife highways,” he said. “Cougars are territorial animals, and we want you to call local law enforcement if you see one, and we will monitor it. But if it’s behaving and doing normal cougar things, we will not remove it.”

We’ve been told how to act if we spot a cougar — raise your arms to make yourself look bigger and leave a path for the 100-pound animal to move on. What’s less known are the actions we’re doing in our yards, like leaving out welcoming food and water, that draw wildlife toward us.

An overfilled bird feeder attracts squirrels, that then lure in raptors and larger animals. Bobcats can come for rodents that grow fat from birdseed and feral cats fed by well-intentioned people.

“It’s a predictable string of events,” said Broman.

He doesn’t want to discourage anyone from enjoying nature, but no expert encourages feeding wildlife. “Most people don’t give them enough credit,” Broman said. “They can find food. They don’t need your little pile of birdseed.” Human food can make animals sick.

Wild animals damage

Wild animals can wreak havoc on your home and property, dead or alive.

When an animal dies under your house, the stench permeates everything, from walls to rugs. If there’s enough crawl space, a wildlife control operator, in head-to-toe disposable coveralls and a full-face respirator, can be called to wrap the carcass in plastic and haul it to the dump.

Other homeowners aren’t so lucky. A bear pried open a window in an Oregon house and was shot, splattering blood everywhere. After a cougar was spotted south of Portland, near Tryon Creek State Natural Area, last weekend, neighbors were told to pick up kids and small pets, and back away slowly if it returns.

Raccoons can spread canine distemper and lay roundworm eggs in water, sandboxes or on objects, which could potentially lead to severe infections in humans.

Wildlife experts agree: It’s easier to make animals leave an area, or not be attracted to it in the first place, than to trap and kill them, and then try to fix the wreckage they caused.

Use animal-proof garbage cans. Remove concealing brush from around your house and install motion-activated lights along walkways and driveways.

And seal up your house to stop critters from digging at the foundation or wiggling through pet doors and broken vents. Otherwise, if ignored, animals can pull down insulation and open ductwork to create sleeping quarters and unchecked sewers.

Your house, your nest egg, could become unlivable, and insurance may not cover the costly repairs.

Just like preventing fire from spreading from one house to another, wildlife control is a neighborhoodwide problem that requires everyone’s vigilance, said Rick Boatner of Oregon’s fish and wildlife agency.

Inviting trouble

Raccoons are clever, personable. They will take food out of your hands, then turn around and tear a hole in your roof to get into your attic or basement. You can’t trust squirrels either, which destroy property and carry rabies, say animal experts. And everyone knows to stay clear of skunks.

Still, people fill their bird feeders, leave out dog food or let fallen fruit lay in their yards. Then, in creep coyotes or other menacing animals that stick around for more. With enough to eat and drink from a birdbath and a safe place to sleep under decks, wild creatures don’t have to work so hard. They’re living with you.

If you remove just one perk — food, water or shelter — they will move on because animals are opportunists, said Becky McClintock of Portland, who learned a lot about animal behavior working alongside her husband, Larry McClintock aka The Critter Getter, for 30 years.

“People with gardens and fish ponds are providing a mini paradise for wildlife,” she said.

Summer fruit trees and growing vegetables are attracting more raccoons, possums and skunks to city streets. Coyotes, too. These omnivores, a relative of a wolf, will devour what’s inside a garbage can, then your little dog or cat.

There used to be a season for rats, but now they’re here year-round, said wildlife control operator David Mays of Bugs Northwest in Grants Pass, because people are composting and growing more in their gardens.

He recommends removing anything that’s attracting animals and putting mesh over vents; a heavy steel mesh will stop raccoons from prying it open.

“If everyone had their house, sheds and decks sealed up, then animals would seek their natural habitat in the wild,” he said. “We’re building on their land, and there’s always going to be issues.”

Wildlife comes in cycles

Terry Coates lives near a well-maintained golf course in the Portland suburbs, yet wild animals muscle into his house. Squirrels have scampered into his attic and an owl, with a 3-foot wingspan, was once rescued by Critter Control after it fell down his chimney.

When Coates moved to Raleigh Hills in the late 1980s, the SW Portland neighborhood saw an active population of possums. Soon, the marsupials that eat undesirable insects, snails and slugs were replaced with tree-climbing raccoons that dug up Coates’ flower bulbs and rinsed them in his birdbath before eating them.

Skunks sometimes sneak into his backyard and when they do, he races around to shut his windows as the fresh air outside turns foul.

He called Critter Control again, concerned a family of skunks was settling in under his house. A technician arrived, with a caged skunk in the back of his trunk that he trapped at someone else’s house.

Animals are exterminated, typically with CO2 gas, at the wildlife control operator’s facility. Large animals like cougars and bears can be relocated if captured by Oregon fish and wildlife agents.

Coates stopped feeding birds, which dropped seeds that attracted rats, raccoons and an occasional coyote. Still, deer and rabbits sometimes show up in his yard.

“There’s a passing parade of different critters,” he said. “I’m just wondering where the skunks came from and what comes next?”

Who knows? A population cycles in, then gets wiped out by canine distemper or some other outbreak and another species takes over the void, Boatner said.

‘Kidnapping’ wildlife

When the McClintocks’ Critter Getter crew was called out to capture what’s called nuisance wildlife, they sometimes found their traps gone or smashed or the animal released by someone wanting to come to its rescue.

Boatner had to take a baby raccoon born in the wall of a home from a woman who tucked it into her shirt to keep it.

“Raccoons grow up to be mean,” he said. “It takes a unique person, with abilities, skills and knowledge to have wildlife as a pet, not someone who has just watched a movie about a cute wild animal.”

It’s so common for people to try to take critters out of the wild — from fawns to coyote pups and even bear cubs — that each summer, Oregon’s fish and wildlife agency releases a notice not to “kidnap” wildlife.

And there’s a fine for doing so. Removing or capturing an animal from the wild is a violation of state law and carries a maximum fine of $6,250 and a year in jail. There are state laws against feeding bears, coyotes and wolves, Broman said.

Oregon State Police issued warnings and No Wildlife Holding Permit citations last year to people who picked up young animals and brought them home.

Deer, elk and other wild animals leave their young alone to find food, and the mother won’t return until predators, including humans, are gone.

If you know a young animal is orphaned — and not just temporarily left behind — or if you see an injured animal or one in distress, call one of Oregon’s licensed wildlife rehabilitators who have the training and facilities to properly care for animals and return them to the wild.

‘What humans are doing’

Every city has coyotes, Boatner said. They live in the greenways and run through schoolyards during the day and creep down streets lined with tidy-looking houses. Packs of preying coyotes will yelp to call a dog to come toward them to kill it.

And that’s our fault.

“It all comes back to what humans are doing,” Boatner said. “It’s easy to come and get food, then go back to the forest. Coyotes are smart. They have learned to live with us very well.”

Becky McClintock agrees: “People freak out that coyotes move freely and stay in a small area, but we’re providing for them.”

A state trapper will catch a bear and mountain lion for free, but there is no government agency that captures coyotes: Not animal control, not the Department of Fish and Wildlife, nor the Humane Society. But a private wildlife control operator will.

Mays’ Grants Pass warehouse looks like a Costco of cages. There are specific traps for miniature moles to 2-foot-long nutria, a burrowing rodent with orange incisors that carries pathogens and parasites when diving into pools and ponds.

Keep going through Mays’ maze of containers to see what he uses for beavers and foxes. In the parking lot is a huge, barrellike rolling cage for bears.

“Pest control companies go after bugs, insects and rodents,” he said.

“Branching into nuisance wildlife is a completely different monkey.”

He can reel off stories of successful captures and homeowners’ mistakes he’s seen over 19 years on the job.

One woman kept seeing a 3-foot-garter snake in her kitchen, but it would slither away and disappear.

Mays found it inside a hollow spot in the frame of her backdoor. He caught it on a glue trap and later released it by greasing the snake with cooking oil.

At another property, a river otter entered a koi pond and bit each prized fish before tossing it to land. “They kill for sport,” Mays said.

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