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All the trappings of spring: Wildlife services help animals, people coexist

By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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Usually when two males get into a fight over a girl, the Placer County Agriculture Department isn't called to clean up the mess. In the case of wild male skunks sparring over their female counterpart, it means spraying their opponent. And when that happens under a homeowner's house, the potent stench wafting through the rooms isn't a welcome smell. As Placer County wildlife specialists hit the tail end of the mating season for skunks, the number of urgent phone calls will taper off. But they remain busy during the year addressing problems between homeowners and a variety of animals including skunks, beavers, raccoons, coyotes and bears. Trapping, however, is a last resort for the department, said Christine Turner, county agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures. The primary goal is to work with homeowners and help them prevent the problem so it solves itself, said Josh Huntsinger, deputy agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures. The county department is unique in some ways, Huntsinger said, because typically county wildlife services are hired out to a federal agency. Placer County has three county trappers and one federal trapper because of the need in the area, he explained. Wildlife services costs the department a total of about $277,400 a year to run. That total includes salaries and benefits, vehicles and mileage, and equipment allowances. Funding also pays for trappers such as Jim Barrie. Barrie has worked as a Placer County wildlife specialist for about 10 years, but handling animal problems has been a part of his life as a rancher. His first duty when people call, he says, is to help them identify the problem and how they can eliminate it without resorting to trapping. He walks the perimeter of the home with the homeowner. Usually he can identify a food source the wild animal depends on or a place of shelter such as under a house. It's important for (animals) to have something to eat as it is for us to pay our mortgage, Barrie said. He added that sometimes when the source of comfort is taken away, the animal leaves the area. If the problem still persists after a homeowner stops putting pet food outside or boards up a crawl space door, then Barrie sets up a steel tomahawk trap and uses pieces of wood to fence it off. Animals the county traps are then euthanized. Currently, the department does not charge a fee for trapping and then euthanizing those animals, Turner said. Turner said the state Department of Fish and Game does not allow counties to release the animals elsewhere. The state department does not allow for relocation of animals plus, nobody wants to put a problem animal in their own backyard, Turner said. Turner stressed that trapping an animal is an option the department uses after exhausting all other possibilities to get rid of an animal damaging someone's home. This is a service designed to assist property owners and to address their wildlife issues so animals don't continue to be a problem, Turner said. Euthanizing animals is only used as a last resort and it's really important people understand that. Skunks may be the most common game trappers are called out to collect. County trappers have also dealt with a significant bear problem in the Lake Tahoe area, according to Turner. Bears recognize houses and cabins as a food source. They can pull a door off its hinges or break through windows and cause more damage once inside, Turner said. It's not quite like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo and a picnic basket, Turner joked. The agriculture department stresses to residents that prevention is key to decreasing the number of animals trapped in the area. Some tips include keep pet food inside and don't feed pets outside. Secure garbage cans with tight lids or store them inside. Also, cover roof and crawlspace entries. The biggest thing is people aren't aware of their role in creating a problem for wildlife, Turner said. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.